Monday, October 6, 2014

Some Open Questions on IPS School Board Candidates and Campaigns

I'll go ahead and say that I am completely unfamiliar with what the formal laws are regarding school board candidates and their campaigns, or if they operate differently than partisan political candidates and their campaign committees. I know that when I ran for council in 2011, even though I never raised a dime, I was still required to turn in a form every several weeks declaring how much I had raised.

So I'll admit at the outset that I could just be missing something so that this all makes sense.

Let's start with what we know. School board elections have been moved from the primaries to the general elections, where they will be placed on the ballot along with all of the other offices that are up for election on November 4th. 

The deadline to declare a candidacy for a school board campaign was August 22, which is much later than the deadline for a political party to either choose someone by a primary election, or appointment by July for any vacancies after the primary is held. 

School board elections are traditionally low key affairs, with candidates raising little to no money. That includes the successful ones. Pike Township has an At-Large school board seat up for election this year. Only the incumbent has even filed a campaign report, indicating she had a bit over $300 as of the end of last year. Her two opponents haven't filed anything. 

In contrast, Indianapolis Recorder columnist and WTLC-AM radio host Amos Brown attended an Indianapolis Public Schools' School Board candidate forum and had this to say. This is probably the most attention the school board races have gotten this year within the mainstream media:

Campaign cash. Yes, I did it. I threw out the unspoken question in this year’s IPS School Board race.
Two years ago, IPS winners Sam Odle, Caitlin Hannon and Gayle Cosby raised $207,689 combined in campaign cash. An unprecedented sum.
At a candidate forum at Martin University, I asked the candidates to outline their current campaign funds. Already three candidates, Kelly Bentley, Mary Ann Sullivan, and Dr. David Hampton have raised some $76,000. A fourth candidate expected to have oodles of cash is relatively unknown Black candidate, Lanier Echols.
Expect the issue of money and outside business interests to be raised as the IPS Board campaign heats up.

After I read that, I headed over to the IPS School Board candidates' section for campaign finance reports. Clicking on the candidates that Brown names only brings up a Statement of Organization. Not a single dime has been disclosed.

I think some of these candidates are good people. Kelly Bentley and Mary Ann Sullivan are both good public servants and I have no doubt that they'd be an asset on the IPS School Board. They have both run for public office before and surely know the ins and outs of how to run a campaign committee and the reporting requirements better than I, so I'm not alleging anything illegal going on in their campaigns or the other candidates' campaigns. 

But I think it is a fatal flaw in the system if candidates can raise several thousands of dollars within a relatively short 1-2 month period and not have disclosed any of it a month before the election.

The pre-general election campaign finance report is October 17th. But I hope the legislature looks into moving that forward so that transparency occurs a little bit earlier in the election cycle.