Jim spent a few minutes yesterday trying to keep from giggling like a little girl as the Dallas City Council struggled to reform its ethics. Some council members were way for 'em; others, not so much. Which brings us to Angela Hunt's short essay on her Web site concerning restrictions on campaign contributions: City Attorney Tom Perkins has drafted a proposal that disallows folks with zoning cases from giving council members money 60 days before or after their particular issue is taken up at City Hall. A buffer, if you will. Which seems -- you guessed it -- rather arbitrary and altogether toothless. Hence, Hunt's post, in which she writes that, look, that ain't nearly enough:
Zoning cases aren't the only matters where significant financial interests are at stake. Tax abatements, TIF project requests, housing tax credits, contracts with the City of Dallas -- all of these matters have very serious monetary consequences for the applicant. So why not expand the proposed contribution limitations to include these matters as well
As for the timeframe on the restriction: sixty days is too short, especially when zoning cases often begin up to a year before zoning notices are sent out (the trigger for the 60 days). ... Instead, we should restrict contributions to a year before the application is made to the city and a year after a decision is made. Similar triggers would need to be determined for the other matters decided by the council (TIF requests, tax credits, etc.). I would not object to placing the same restrictions on non-incumbent council candidates, not just officeholders, to ensure a level playing field.
This would most likely have a chilling effect on contributions to councilmembers -- who can predict when they will bring a zoning case before the city, bid on a city contract, or request TIF funds? -- but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. We don't need the appearance of a "pay to play" system in Dallas, and broadening the scope of the issues covered by this reform, as well as expanding the time limitation, will go a long way in reducing the appearance of impropriety and helping the City of Dallas regain the public trust.
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