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The Shell Game

Hey Francesconi, Show Us The Money!

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Last week, red flags were raised regarding donations to Jim Francesconi's mayoral campaign. In question were a donation from a major downtown developer, Tom Moyer, and another from his executive assistant, Sonja Tune. Moyer, one of the city's wealthiest residents, gave $500; Tune, who hails from modest means, gave $2,000. She had only met Francesconi in passing and had reportedly never contributed to political campaigns. This donation put her in an elite class: one of Francesconi's top 10 donors in his first year of fundraising. Yet for all her generosity, the Francesconi campaign couldn't recall Ms. Tune. And, when questioned by the Mercury about her weighty gift, she quickly hung up the phone.

The problem with this donation? State campaign laws demand transparency: A person cannot give money through anyone else. To funnel money through another person, or to avoid fully and completely reporting campaign gifts is a felony.

On Friday, a request for a formal investigation was filed with the City's election division. On Monday, that request was forwarded to the Secretary of State who, in turn, will determine whether to pursue criminal charges. If proven, the law also implicates the recipient--Francesconi's campaign--of a felony.

Also last week, a second complaint was filed against Francesconi's campaign--one that focuses on an "in-kind donation." For the past several months, Francesconi has been borrowing office space from Ball Janik, a downtown firm that receives tens of thousands each year from city contracts to lobby on various matters. They had given Francesconi free office space so he could make phone calls and raise funds. Francesconi had failed to report that in-kind contribution on his Contribution and Expense Reports (C&E)--a violation punishable by fines.

On Wednesday, a complaint was filed requesting an investigation into the donation from Ball Janik. Over the previous week, several news sources had reported Francesconi's failure to report this donation.

A few hours after the complaint was filed, the Francesconi campaign finally submitted an amendment to their C&E. That amendment accounts for the in-kind donation of office space. Even so, a spokesperson from the city's election office said the investigation will still move forward.

Yet, in spite of taking measures to clear up concerns stemming from the donation of office space, questions remain regarding the contributions from Moyer and his executive assistant, Tune--questions that the Francesconi campaign seems reluctant to address.

Asked whether they would consider refunding the $2,000 donation until the investigation was complete--a mere drop in their million-dollar campaign bucket--their answer was an unyielding "no."

"There is no indication that the money came from anyone but [Tune]," explained Ed Grosswiler, a spokesperson for Francesconi's campaign. (Fun Fact: Grosswiler also runs a firm that specializes in public relations, and giving image makeovers for political candidates and corporations which include Weyerhaeuser.) He went on to explain: "There is nothing for us to do. The check was reported in the C&E."

After that brief exchange, Grosswiler said he had no more to add and accused this writer of having a "conflict of interest." (In case you didn't know, I'm a candidate for mayor against Francesconi; for more on my "conflict of interest," see the "Me For Mayor" column on this page.)

What is additionally disturbing about this tight-lipped and defensive approach is that it flies in the face of Francesconi's rhetoric about campaign transparency. At last Wednesday's city council meeting, while debating a plan for publicly financing campaigns, Francesconi called for "instant reporting." Under this plan, campaigns would be required to immediately record and announce contributions. (This would prove especially tough for the Francesconi campaign, which waited until the final second to turn in their C&E reports.)

It's time for Francesconi to put his money where his mouth is: demand instant, complete, and transparent reporting for his own contributions. If red flags are raised, take the measures necessary to chase away doubts.

There is a very easy way to clear up the "Tune Controversy": Provide Sonja Tune's bank statements from the period of time in question. Reportedly, Francesconi paid a visit to the downtown developer Moyer around May 9, 2003. Although Francesconi had yet to declare his intentions to run for mayor, he was still busy fundraising. The donations in question were given a week later, on May 16.

If Tune could provide bank statements from before the meeting was set up until after the donation was given, it would shed a good deal of light on the transaction, and possibly prove the campaign contribution was her money to give. However, to refuse to answer questions or to provide access to these records raises further suspicion.

If a criminal investigation moves forward, those records will be subpoenaed. It should not take the force of law and a full blown investigation to get to the bottom of questionable donations. It should take leadership and civic leaders who want to provide voters with straightforward answers and accountability.

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