Friday, August 15, 2008

My personal ethics keep getting in the way, not to mention the State & Federal Laws.


Running for political office as a federal employee who because of the Hatch Act is not allowed to accept any political contributions has been quite an interesting ordeal so far. First, I set a budget of $1,500 to fund my own political campaign, in order to obtain a position that pays $11,000 per year and will last 3 years. If I was running for office to obtain a second job, this choice was a really bad one since the pay, divided by the number of hours, would equate to the amount per hour I made on my paper route when I was 11. I am running for office because I believe I have the ability to make a difference and under the legal circumstances which I have to abide, I am even willing to self fund my campaign, to a point.

Because of my limited budget, I have to be extremely thrifty and decided early on that political yard signs and mass mailings cannot be afforded and therefore they will not be done. My expenses so far have been the ballot registration fee & business cards totaling about $800.00 leaving me another $700.00 to use wisely on other forms of advertising.

Here’s the issue that I am facing. My friends and supporters are already seeing the political yard signs and receiving mass mailings from my opponent and they feel helpless because they want a Heneghan yard sign in their front yard, yet they can’t get one. My supporters feel like they want to do more then they currently are and they are being limited by the restrictions of not being able to provide me financial support in any fashion.

Questions are being raised like…
  • Can we buy yard signs for you?
  • Can you sell us yard signs?
  • Can you hold a fund raiser? Can we?
  • If not, when is your birthday, maybe we can attend a party and then give you “gifts”?
  • Maybe you could hold a garage sale and I could buy one of your son’s “antique” Matchbox car’s for $500.00?
Wacky questions are being raised and I’m laughing off most of them. (Humm…With three boys, I think we have hundreds of Matchbox cars that my wife has collected at various garage sales?)

On Wednesday, I attended a candidate training session at the Georgia State Ethics Commission to learn more about what was, and was not allowed to be done. Since I was the only person in the room who didn’t want to accept any political contributions, I had to learn the technicalities of the definition of the word “contribution” and then explore with questions on how it affected my specific circumstances. Basically they brought in their attorney so I could question every angle and nuance of Georgia law. Besides the monetary contributions that I knew that I couldn’t accept because of my Federal employment, I also cannot accept any "in kind contributions" either. People are not allowed to buy signs and give them to me, because that would be a contribution in kind, which would be a violation of the Hatch Act that I must abide by. I cannot sell political signs because the money coming in would be considered a political donation which I am not willing to accept. The Hatch Act may have allowed a separate political committee that I was not officially apart of working on my behalf, but that would have caused the appearance of possible influence and I was advised by my work attorneys to not go that route.

In doing my own legal research on Georgia law to find if there was a way around some of the technicalities, I discovered that if two or more individuals took my logo off my site or used a bumper sticker graphic that I was thinking about using and printed their own political literature without my knowledge or approval; those individuals would need to have formed an independent committee and then filed the necessary legal and financial disclosure forms as shown in 21-5-34(f)1. The way I read the definition of independent committee in 21-5-3 (15) shown below, an individual is not covered therefore different rules might apply.
(15) "Independent committee" means any committee, club, association, partnership, corporation, labor union, or other group of persons, other than a campaign committee, political party, or political action committee, which receives donations during a calendar year from persons who are members or supporters of the committee and which expends such funds either for the purpose of affecting the outcome of an election for any elected office or to advocate the election or defeat of any particular candidate.
So what are the rules that need to be followed by individuals who independently and without knowledge of the candidate (me), go ahead and make expenditures (signs) on behalf of a candidate? Section 21-5-34(e)1 exempts individuals who make $25,000 or less of aggregate contributions to all candidates in one year, but it is silent on the amount of expenditures allowed to be made. That being said, if a complaint was filed against some individual (not me, because I had no knowledge) the Ethics Commission may decide that the $25,000 rule would be extended over to expenditures as well contributions. Or they may not, and the individual would then have to deal with the legal circumstances of his actions.

Trust me when I tell you that trying to run for political office on the cheap without allowing your friends and neighbors to assist you in any way, is more difficult than it sounds. They want to help in every way possible in order to get me into office and I'm conflicted because I want to follow not only the letter of the ethics laws but also the spirit of the various laws that I am suppose to be following. Because of this, I have informed my friends to abide by my requests and to not attempt to assist me financially in any way.

Instead, I would rather my supporters personally tell their friends and neighbors about my campaign and to encourage them to start reading the over 300 plus articles posted on the Dunwoody Blog, if they haven’t already been aware of the site. My supporters in the Dunwoody North area can write letters to the editor explaining to the community at large what I have done here for our little community. If those letters do not make it into the Crier due to space or editorial fairness policies, please send them to me via e-mail and I will print them here once the Crier has had the option to do so first. To my supporters outside of the Dunwoody North area, invite me to your neighborhood functions and swim tennis clubs where I can walk around with you to meet your neighbors and friends.

So that my supporters know, I have been campaigning diligently for the last several weeks, visiting school registrations, PTA meetings, political events, standing in front of grocery stores, visiting various swim tennis clubs and I will continue to work hard to get elected in this citywide seat.

Maybe I am naive, but I have faith that the voters in Dunwoody will not blindly vote for the candidates who spend the most money but instead they will research each candidate’s background and positions in order to make an educated decision come Election Day.

To my supporters and friends, the next time you see a sign from my opponent, keep in mind that every yard without a sign is already voting for me, so I thank you for spreading my message and continuing to support me.

It is much appreciated.

John

PS: I'm thinking about placing a newspaper ad the same day as the political forum. Is anyone in the market for an “antique” Lightning McQueen Matchbox car?

6 comments:

themommy said...

Hey John,

Can you please post the committee reports that were presented this morning at St. Lukes.

Thanks

Lynn

John Heneghan said...

As of today, the reports published and presented to the candidates are now public information, therefore I as a candidate will be posting them on the web ASAP.

As soon as I can get them uploaded, I will point you in the right direction.

The Citizens For Dunwoody Committee will also be publishing the available reports on their site.

http://www.citizensfordunwoody.org

Volleyball Acer said...

Six Degrees of Separation. As i have email lists for ALTA teams, Swim and Tennis club members, Sunday School Class, etc etc. Couldn't i send an email and ask everyone who receives it to forward it on to someone else. I reviewed the rules and it seems acceptable..not organized, has no value, etc. What do you think?

John Heneghan said...

Volleyball Acer, that would be much appreciated, thank you. A personal note coming from you showing who you recommend for the City Council while pointing them to
my little Dunwoody website so they can read my qualifications for themselves is an excellent idea.

SuperAwesomeD'woodyBODYSLAMAndASideOfCRAZYSAUCE said...

It is good to hear that this type of training is being offered. Ethics is typically a very confusing area, especially when elected office or any amount of power is concerned.

Although, I do find it a little strange that I ended up on this blog by clicking a link from a civic association website that was titled 'DNCA Blog'. This is obviously not a blog for the Dunwoody North Civic Association.

The fact that you are president of said civic association certainly rings some ethical bells in my broom closet. Whether or not this blog was started as a personal campaign communication tool is not the issue, this is what it has become.

Simply 'offering' space to other candidates to voice their communications is not a valid solution... the very large HENEGHAN banner on top doesn't really scream 'Fair and open Forum'.

The ratio of content concerning Heneghan personal interest vs. DNCA issues is very much the lose mister!

So I wonder. Will the link to the 'DNCA Blog' be removed? If so, as 'president' of the DNCA will you provide a true open forum for the DNCA residents to use? Possibly the DNCA board would be willing to allow another fine DNCA netizen to handle the DNCA blog?

It is very important, and useful, for the fine folks represented by the DNCA to have an area to communicate as a neighborhood... unfortunately, this ain't it chappy.

John Heneghan said...

Thanks SuperAwesome for reminding me to kill the link from the DNCA Website, it will be done tonight. Slight over sight in that detail, didn't mean any harm.

I have tendered my resignation to the Dunwoody North Civic Association effective upon my successful election, I offered it upon my candidacy but my board rejected it.

Effective on July 15th the blog no longer speaks for the civic association as is solely my words, my thoughts and my responsibility.

Hey it looks like you might be good at the internet, how would you like to serve as the new DNCA Blogger?

The job is open.