Sign of the Times

The screenshot below is from yesterday’s Sun article about the billboard. Whether or not it is related to Mayor Pugh’s scandalous behavior and the FBI’s investigation, it marks an extraordinary moment in the continuing downward spiral of Baltimore’s public image.

Not surprisingly, some contributors to the Mayor’s $1 million campaign war chest are asking for their money back. These contributors can feign shock and disappointment all they want. The truth is that they put up their money to buy accessibility and influence once Mayor Pugh was re-elected. Now that the Mayor’s political future is toast, larger dollar contributors can’t make the return on their investments they had hoped for and want a refund. Good luck with that. Campaign financing has always been a risky business.

And now the City Council wants to change the Charter to effectively make future Mayors powerless. (It’s no wonder Jack Young prefers to run again for City Council President rather than for Mayor.) The Council isn’t after an improved balance of power which is what they’re claiming. They want control which is ironic given how appreciative some members of the Council are to their own campaign contributors.

The buying of poorly written children’s books from Mayor Pugh to obtain contracts with the city was amateurish at best. The real, long-term and continuing problem is campaign financing. Candidates elected by the many who voted for them are, in fact, obligated to the few who funded their campaigns and that’s got to change.

Hopefully, all this mess is a low point from which the city has nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, that may not be the case because nothing is happening to pull the root cause out from under all this government corruption. For that to happen, campaign financing laws need to change dramatically.

Corporate contributions need to be eliminated entirely, as do transfers from one campaign committee to another. And individual personal contributions per election cycle need to be significantly reduced to offset the effects of “bundling.” Bundling is the perfectly legal magic that enables prominent campaign supporters to deliver large, unlimited dollars through the collective contributions of family, friends and business associates.

If ever there was a window of opportunity to make meaningful changes to campaign finance laws, this is it. Make those changes and Mayor Pugh’s administration, however perverse, may have a lasting, positive legacy after all.

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