In Salem these days, as elsewhere in the U.S., corporate fat cats don't have to carry around bags of cash to surreptitiously hand over to compliant politicians when they want a favor done for them.
No, our campaign finance systems have gotten so screwed up, rich political donors can do their "bought and paid for" thing right out in the open, pretty much. Their money buys access to politicians, greasing the skids for favorable votes that can't be directly connected to the cash they donated to a campaign fund.
Case in point: Salem's Creekside Golf Course water rate reduction brouhaha. (I'm stealing the term IrriGate for this scandal from a Facebook poster who noted that WaterGate was already taken.)
As noted in my post, "Crony capitalism on display in Creekside Golf Course water rate giveaway," the golf course owners wanted to get a break on their City of Salem water bill, threatening that otherwise Creekside would go out of business, supposedly eliminating 50 jobs.
The City's Water-Wastewater Task Force has obligingly gone along, recommending that Creekside get a $60,000 reduction in its irrigation costs by lowering the rate for all large irrigators in Salem. If this plan is approved by the full City Council in October, a $600,000 hole in the City's water budget will be made up by increasing rates on other customers.
Since, as I said, usually it isn't possible to make a direct connection between (1) a politician's action that favors a big donor to their campaign fund, and (2) the money that the "fat cat" contributed, I'll simply share a (1) and (2) involving IrriGate.
(1) Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett is on board with the Creekside Golf Course getting a water rate reduction.
Bennett, who currently is a city councilor, not taking office as Mayor until 2017, is a member of the Water-Wastewater Task Force.
A Statesman Journal story about the Creekside water rate reduction contains a quote from Mayor-elect Bennett:
Some members of the committee supported Creekside’s request, but balked at extending the deal to all irrigators, which pay the highest of the city’s eight rates.
“It’s not unusual to try to save or to create 50 jobs in this town forgiving taxes for years on end, for doing a whole variety of fiscal gymnastics to get them in,” said City Councilor Chuck Bennett, a committee member. “I’m not sure why in the case of a business like this we wouldn’t do the same kind of thing relative to this cost.”
(2) Larry Tokarski, one of the two owners of the Creekside Golf Course, is linked to a major contribution to Chuck Bennett's campaign fund.
I wrote about this last May in "Chuck Bennett gets lots of love (and money) from homebuilder PACs." Here's excerpts from that post:
The Oregon Realtors Political Action Committee gave Bennett $5,000. That was topped only by the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, which gave Bennett $7,500.
Hmmmm. I was surprised by the $7,500 contribution, because at first I naively thought that a group with "affordable housing" in its name was concerned with homelessness, low-income housing, and such.
And I wasn't aware that groups like this had $7,500 to throw at Mayor candidates -- especially Bennett, who isn't known as an avid advocate in this area. Thus my next step was to click on the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition name in the ORESTAR report.
I learned that the people associated with the committee share the address of the Homebuilders Association of Marion and Polk Counties.
In fact, the treasurer of the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, Mike Erdmann, is the CEO of the Marion/Polk Homebuilders Association.
So that cleared up the mystery of the Affordable Housing Coalition. It is the political arm of the Marion/Polk Homebuilders Association.
Given all the concern about homelessness and affordable housing these days, I suspect the homebuilders folks thought Affordable Housing Coalition would sound better than Pave the Planet and Enrich Already Rich Builders PAC.
Looking through the records of the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, I noticed a big $14,525 contribution to the Coalition from a similarly-named group, Oregonians for Affordable Housing. Also, that the Affordable Housing Coalition had given $5,000 to Salem City Councilor Warren Bednarz' re-election campaign against challenger Sally Cook.
So my next question was, who the heck is Oregonians for Affordable Housing? The name sounded like a big-hearted liberal group dedicated to helping low-income people. Of course, the reality was way different.
Oregonians for Affordable Housing hangs out at an address next door to the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition.
Which turns out to be the address of the Oregon Home Builders Association. So all these cozy political action committee relationships got me making up lyrics to an updated sort of old Beatles song.
"I am Chuck Bennett, who am supported by the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, who am the Homebuilders Association of Marion and Polk Counties, who am supported by Oregonians for Affordable Housing, who am the Oregon Home Builders Association, and we are all one... in Political Action Committee'ness; also, we are the walrus."
Oh, but wait, I'm not quite done, because I'd noticed that the Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, a.k.a. the Homebuilders Association of Marion and Polk Counties, had given $7,500 to the Salem Chamber of Commerce's Build Jobs PAC in October 2015.
Naturally I had to click on over to the Build Jobs PAC to see what was happening there. This caught my eye: a $5,000 contribution from Mountain West Investment (the Tokarski company which is building the South Block Apartments on the old Boise Cascade property, a beneficiary of generous tax breaks from the City of Salem).
On the same day the $5,000 Mountain West contribution came in, April 12, the Build Jobs PAC donated the same amount to the three candidates endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce: Chuck Bennett, Mayor ($3,000); Jan Kailuweit, Ward 1 City Councilor ($1,000); Warren Bednarz, Ward 7 City Councilor ($1,000).
So, yeah, Chuck Bennett is tied into a weird and wacky complicated campaign finance world of homebuilding political action committees who are supporting Chamber of Commerce candidates. There's more, of course -- such as another $5,000 Mountain West contribution to the Build Jobs PAC -- but my brain couldn't handle any more digging into ORESTAR reports.
Complicated stuff. Which is how the "fat cat" class wants it. Make it difficult to connect the dots between (1) and (2), actions by elected officials and big contributions from wealthy political donors.
As the saying goes, "I've reported, you decide."
(1) Mayor-elect Chuck Bennett is on record as supporting a big water rate reduction for the Creekside Golf Course. The Creekside Golf Course is owned by Larry Tokarski. (2) On the same day Tokarski's Mountain West Investment company gave $5,000 to the Salem Chamber of Commerce's Build Jobs PAC, three candidates endorsed by the Chamber got a total of $5,000. Chuck Bennett got $3,000 of that.
Those are the dots. Feel free to connect them, or not, as you like.