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Sunday, October 19, 2008

AFSCME-Gate, Oregon Senate District 23 and a word about ethics and lobbyists

You be the judge!

You are a candidate for public office (Senate District 23); invited to appear before a powerful union endorsement panel for an interview (AFSCME).

You recognize that the union has endorsed your opponent (Jackie Dingfelder) in the past, but since you have worked successfully with the union’s professional lobbyists across a wide range of issues for the past several years, you have an expectation that you will be treated fairly and honestly.

Your opponent is a sitting legislator, chairs a powerful House committee, and has earned notoriety for being the hardest-charging full-time campaigner in Oregon history. You are a huge underdog, irrespective of the fact that you are well qualified for the job. What can she/they possibly be afraid of?

You learn a few days before the interview that your opponent’s spouse (Tom Gainer) is an AFSCME organizer. Given the different surnames of the couple, it is a relationship that few outsiders are aware of, most importantly the constituents of Senate District 23.

Here is the question: Does the powerful union endorsement panel have a duty to disclose the conflict of interest?

I believe that they do….

Going into the interview, which took place at the AFSCME offices on January 25, 2008, I pondered bringing up the question, but decided to give the interviewers the opportunity to act honestly and with integrity, a test which they failed miserably and with smiles on their faces.

The interview proceeded cordially and ended with a nice round of applause, but no disclosure.

I can tell you that my opinion of the AFSCME lobbyists changed dramatically at the conclusion of the interview, but I made no mention of it.

I never heard from them again.

Months later, during the Williamette Week interview, my opponent disclosed (somewhat uncomfortably) that her largest campaign contribution ($ 5,000) came from AFSCME and that her husband, Tom Gainer, was an AFSCME organizer.

The disclosure raised some eyebrows around the W Week table, but the paper failed to follow up the lead.

The AFSCME endorsement and cash contribution helped the Dingfelder/Gainer campaign garner other endorsements and contributions, including several thousand dollars’ worth of free wine, used to fuel still more fund-raising and glad-handing activities. Parrrr-ty!!!

All of the other union and special-interest organizations followed the AFSCME lead in this race, which explains how the unions locked up in support of Jackie Dingfelder.

She was able to raise a campaign war chest in excess of $ 100,000, more than ten times any other legislative race in the state, not to mention the large hoard of free alcohol.

On the surface, the endorsements seem to demonstrate broad support, that the AFSCME endorsement was decided on the merits of the respective candidates, and that is the illusion the Dingfelder/Gainer campaign has fought hard to create.

But the reality is that it was (and is) an inside job.

AFSCME gains a seat in the Oregon Senate.

What this means for the constituents of Senate District 23 and all Oregonians has yet to be seen.

Lots of campaign promises to be kept; legions of lobbyists to satisfy….

There still may be some free booze left….

If not, they know where to get more….

Vote yes on Measure 65, Open Primaries!!!

If you want to upset the applecart, and bring real change to the Oregon Legislature, write in Sean Cruz for Senate District 23.

--Sean Cruz, October 19, 2008

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