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Funeral donation proves need for reform in Cruces

Heath Haussamen

Former Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace’s donation of campaign funds to help pay for a funeral demonstrates the need for campaign finance and other ethics reform in city government. It’s time for action.

Former Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace says donating $10,000 from his campaign account to help pay for the funeral of his sister-in-law’s husband was “the right thing to do.”

While I certainly understand his desire to help a family member, particularly in a difficult time, Mattiace was wrong to use campaign funds to help his sister-in-law.

Such donations should be illegal, even though they’re not currently, because of the slippery slope they represent.

If you can use campaign funds to pay for funerals, why not also for living expenses? Or your child’s college tuition? Or a new car? Or a trip to Vegas?

Allowing campaign funds to be spent for those purposes is practically inviting bribery. When a public official gets into financial trouble, there will be a temptation to trade an official act in exchange for a personal bailout. Sure I’ll vote for your proposal. Just contribute $2,500 to my campaign…

That’s why what Mattiace did is wrong. That’s why it should be illegal.

Money raised for a campaign should only be spent for campaign purposes, and perhaps, as long as it’s strictly regulated, on expenses directly related to city officials’ job duties.

Reform is long overdue

The fact remains that such spending of campaign funds is not illegal in Las Cruces. Thus, the blame lies with city officials (including, I suppose, Mattiace in his former capacity as mayor) for allowing such spending.


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I’ve been trying to start a discussion in Las Cruces about ethics reform since 2009, when I first wrote an article about the need for revisions to the city’s elections code and other ordinances that relate to ethics. At the time, Mayor Ken Miyagishima told me he supported reform and shared with me his own ideas for improvement. Several councilors also told me reform was an important topic to discuss.

But by last year’s election season, city officials had taken no steps toward such reform.

In August, I authored a commentary complaining about the lack of action. Here’s what I wrote:

“Las Cruces should focus on reform. The city doesn’t even require that election ads include a disclosure of who is paying for them. That’s a basic campaign transparency issue required at the state and federal levels, and it’s something this website requires from candidates regardless of whether the jurisdictions in which they’re running require it.

“Ethics reform is long overdue in Las Cruces. Let’s hope the mayor, councilors, and candidates running in the November election make it a priority.”

In their own words

After I wrote that commentary, I asked the candidates about ethics reform. Here’s what those who won last year’s races said (click on the links to read their full statements):

  • Mayor Miyagishima: “While I fully support election reform, it would have been very difficult for a new mayor and council to immediately set out to change election rules in the City Charter, because the charge would have been that we were making those changes to benefit ourselves. Municipal election reform is so important that it can’t be seen as a partisan issue, and any changes need to have widespread support.”
  • District 1 Councilor Miguel Silva: “The City does not have strong ethics policies and enforcement in place now, and I would like to see them strengthened.”
  • District 2 Councilor Gregory Z. Smith (who is new to the council): “I emphatically believe we need ethics reform, but we need to make sure that any reforms we put in place actually have the intended result. We do not want to provide loopholes for those who will seek ways around the system, nor do we want to have unintended consequences that encourage corruption or penalize honesty.”
  • District 4 Councilor Nathan Small: “…I support formation of a Citizen Campaign Commission. This Commission should contain balanced political and geographical representation from across the City, and be charged with producing reform recommendations for City elections. From addressing the potential influence of special interests and opaque sources of money to the current absentee ballot request process (out of step with state processes) there is significant work for such a committee. Forming the committee after the upcoming election would give it time to gather public input and pursue reforms free from the pressures of an impending local election, and also allow significant time for formal consideration and passage of campaign reforms.”

Time for action

Miyagishima is in his second term. Whatever concern he had during his first about appearances should no longer apply. As Mattiace’s funeral donation demonstrates, the time for grand statements in support of reform without action has passed.

I believe the council and mayor can tackle reform on their own, but Small’s idea to form a commission would also be a productive step. It’s time for action.

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7 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. IP the intent of gofdisks link, since it really has nothing to do with Heath’s commentary, is what?  Reading the article its very plain that there are lots of big RED donations compared to very few big blue ones (SO FAR) for the 2012 presidential race.  And maybe, just maybe, that’s bad.  I guess Bill Mattice is just like Newt Gingrich, you know bad and influenced (badly and evilly)by big donors.

    But what is unsaid (thus “incomplete”) is that this reflects the mere fact of there being a contest among Republicans while Obama goes to Chicago for $35,000 a plate fundraisers. With 82% of the votes in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, I think he’s not in need of a big influx right now.

    Both parties, whether through small or large, indirect or direct, individualn or PACs, corporate or union, will raise massive amounts of money to effect the elections and exert influence.  Often the same donor covers both sides. 

  2. stever:
     
    The story qofdisks linked to was the top donors, how much they gave, and who they gave it to.  How is that an incomplete look?  Have we been so jaded by the false dichotomy that mass media tends to think every story requires that you’re seriously asking for a counter-point to math?

  3. MotherJones slants the slants by giving a very incomplete look.  Good job of showing us the DNC talking points

  4. The bribery is so great than the politician$ don’t know what to do with all the bribe$.  This is a fine $tate of affair$.  Los Pinches are choking on it and are forced to co-mingle it to get it down.

  5. Ethics reform, campaign finance reform, publically financed campaigns– all are important issues, but are not very spectacular, “sexy” issues.  It would be of great benefit to all levels of government if we had publically financed campaigns.  Why do we keep on electing people who spend such enormous amounts on campaigns?  Then we wonder why they are so spendthrift with our tax dollars.  They need to be tested with a limited amount of money to spend on reaching out to voters before they are turned loose on the rest of our money.  It is sort of like Ben Franklin’s saying, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

  6.    With respect to Mr.Mattice and his family and with no disrespect intended…… there is an old vaudeville schtick about a guy who was known to dislike his brother-in-law intensely. This went on for years and years. They wouldn’t speak at family gatherings, sports events or in casual situations in the small town where they lived. This continued into there old age and finally the brother-in-law passed away. At the funeral the the guy was seen standing over the grave of his brother-in-law after the ceremony. One of his buddies came over and was touched by the final act of forgiveness and told his buddy it was a generous and kind thing to do. The guy looked askance at his buddy and said “Hell, I’m just making sure the SOB is gone.”  Oye.

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