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The Journal Gazette

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette City Councilman John Crawford

Sunday, February 11, 2018 1:00 am

Pay-to-play rule levels playing field

Former councilman's fears unfounded

John Crawford

City Council recently passed a pay-to-play ordinance limiting businesses that seek competitive city contracts to $2,000 a year in campaign contributions, the Indiana state law maximum for corporations. Previously, service providers seeking contracts with the city were aggregating large contributions, often in excess of $50,000, to the mayor during an election cycle and often receiving large lucrative contracts. We can all agree this is unseemly and looks bad to citizens even if it was technically legal.

Former Democratic City Councilman John Shoaff perfectly described the primary purpose of this ordinance: “It is about the proper conduct of government.”

Former City Councilman Sam Tala-rico's letter (”New ordinance limits mayoral talent pool,” Feb. 4) outlines possible problems he perceives with the ordinance. He believes only candidates with large personal resources can now compete in mayoral elections. The exact opposite is true – pay-to-play actually levels the playing field between the incumbent and challengers.

According to an Indiana Policy Review study, from 2011 to 2015, Mayor Tom Henry received $980,089 in contributions from business entities seeking city contracts and subsequently these firms received $128,607,000 in city business. This means challenger Mitch Harper started his campaign in 2015 about $1 million behind in funding.

Harper reported raising $260,817 on his 2015 pre-election campaign report, compared to Henry, who reported $1,222,829. This was not a fair fight. Surely, this huge advantage to incumbents was less than ideal. So, actually, it was before pay-to-play that only rich challengers had a chance to compete because of the large total of service-provider contributions the incumbent started with.

Sam Talarico is a friend and an honorable man. I have seen firsthand his vision and passion to fight for the best for Fort Wayne. In 2007, he, Tom Didier, and Tim Pape (along with Mayor Graham Richard) led the charge for the downtown baseball stadium that I voted for along with them. The stadium was the real spark that led to the development we now see downtown. But, Sam and those of us supporting it waged a tough uphill battle in 2007 to get that accomplished.

I am sure Sam's motives are pure in concern about the ordinance's unintended consequences. But it is curious that his firm, Barrett McNagny LLP, gave a $20,000 contribution in 2017 to their preferred mayoral candidate, Tim Smith, along with additional personal contributions from partners in the firm. This is the pattern we observed before pay-to-play with large aggregate contributions from legal firms and other professional service providers that then seek contracts to do city business.

There are 264,488 people in Fort Wayne. Only a small sliver of that number seek contracts from the city. Pay-to-play only affects contributions from businesses seeking city contracts – a very small segment of the potential contributor universe. Vast numbers of citizens can still donate to mayoral candidates whatever amount they want with no limit.

Another curiosity is Sam's worry that mayoral candidates won't now be able to raise money.

His firm's favored mayoral candidate reported on Jan. 17 that he received $20,000 from Barrett McNagny, $50,000 from Brenda and Daryle Doden and $41,500 from the Northeast Indiana PAC – and he added $75,000 from his own pocket. Smith reported $235,269 raised in 2017 for a 2019 election. The first declared mayoral candidate seems to be doing just fine raising large amounts of money.

The appearance of impropriety is created when business entities give large donations to the mayor and receive large, lucrative city contracts. If I choose to run for mayor, I will not accept any contributions greater than the $2,000 state limit on corporate contributions from business entities seeking city contracts.

If I run and am elected, any appearance of and any favoritism in awarding contracts for city business will cease on Jan. 1, 2020. Extreme competition will be instituted in the process to select providers for all city business. Best price and quality will be the only factors considered.

The pay-to-play ordinance will result in lower-cost contracts, more competition, more respect for city government and will save millions of dollars for Fort Wayne citizens.

John Crawford is an at-large member of Fort Wayne City Council.