New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a campaign to review all political donations by public employees in New York State after a report revealed that he received millions of dollars from the New York teachers’ union.
Schneiderman said at the time, “We need to thoroughly review not only those who donated, but how they do it, so we can curb improper influence and protect public resources.”
Schneiderman’s efforts sparked calls for ethics reform, but he wasn’t alone. In March, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said the House of Representatives needs to be “more transparent” and said he wants the chamber’s code of conduct to be more specific on what is or is not an acceptable political action.
Following Ryan’s call, the House passed a resolution to clarify what is or is not an acceptable political action. The measure, as passed by the House, states that “[a]ll Congressmen and Members of Congress…shall immediately cease raising, receiving, or making contributions to any political committee, candidate, committee, or other entity that is:
1.…related to any business of any federal department or agency, the House or Senate, or to any private organization or person in the United States”
To underscore the point that politicians aren’t above the law, the resolution further states that “[i]f a Member of Congress endorses or is involved in an official matter or takes any official action…he or she shall cease raising funds for or making any contributions to any committee or entity, including candidate for elective office, that deals in federal affairs.”
John Fratta, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, felt it was important to start his own campaign as part of his course on public advocacy, and sought the help of the Center for Public Integrity’s research division.
Risk Management Analytics, Inc. (RMA) was appointed to evaluate how taxpayers should be protected against corruption in public office.
Rather than review donation records from the federal government, RMA decided to focus its efforts on state and local officeholders, looking specifically at all contributions of $250 or more made by a public employee during the 2010 election cycle.
The total of all contributions to state-level candidates for local office and political action committees of local public employees made during the same election cycle was $157 million. In all, there were 31,299 public employees who donated.
RMA did a review of 211 public employee PACs, and found that 28 of them contributed $7 million to federal politicians during the 2010 election cycle, including 75 PACs that donated $3.9 million to Republicans.
Of the four federal races in the MAP program, RMA found nine cases in which public employees became involved in controversies. RMA also identified a total of more than 300 special interest groups that appear to be tied to public employees as contributors.
Turning their focus back to the MAP participants, RMA found that all six current state legislators directly affiliated with the MAP program were involved in questionable behavior, including:
State Senator Virginia Blackwell, who resigned her position after a failed campaign for re-election in July 2015, had contributed $65,577 to public employee PACs since 2007. She took the position of “atorney-at-law” in the Michigan office of Aetna Corporation, one of the corporations involved in allegations of Medicaid fraud. The Michigan House Ethics Committee said that she would no longer have a legal role in state government following the investigation.
State Senator Guy Janck, who received $62,935 from public employee PACs during the 2010 election cycle. He ran for local office in 2015 but withdrew his candidacy after a local prosecutor said his residency was in Albany, not his district.
State Senator Russell Pearce, who collected $70,000 from public employee PACs during the 2010 election cycle and collected an additional $32,000 in 2015. He also donated the largest personal donation to campaign coffers during the 2015 election cycle — more than $67,000. Pearce was involved in the primary relocation of Arizona’s border security security to the Sonoran Desert and vetoed anti-discrimination legislation for transgendered people.
These six state legislators all had strongly supported immigration enforcement, and sponsor Scott Klug, co-chair of the MSOPC’s steering committee