Ask any public official if they favor more transparency in government, and they undoubtedly will sing its praises.
In practice, however, the volume of the song gets greatly reduced when those in the choir are asked to actually vote for more openness.
Andrew Hosmer and Peter Spanos both spent a fair amount of money during the Laconia mayoral contest that saw Hosmer get elected in November, but how much?
Nobody outside the candidates’ inner circles really knows, because it’s not public information, but judging from the fliers and ads that circulated during the campaign, it’s safe to assume total spending by each side amounted to thousands of dollars.
Exactly how much was spent — and where the money came from — is a matter of significant public interest, because money can buy access and influence. Knowing where candidates get their money is information that should be available to voters before they enter the polls, and for a variety of reasons.
For instance, voters might find it helpful to know that someone who has business before the city has contributed money to a candidate.
If one candidate has a large number of donors who are nonresidents, that’s also something residents might like to know.
If lots of public employees have donated to a particular candidate, taxpayers who foot the bill ought to be able to see that.
And if a candidate has dug deep into their own pocket to finance their campaign, that’s something voters would probably be interested in.
Unfortunately, Laconia doesn’t require any disclosure of spending on local races, either for mayoral or city council candidates. Candidates could, of course, choose to make their campaign finance information public, but neither mayoral candidate chose to do so when we asked them about the sources of their money.
Interestingly, one argument we have heard in favor of keeping the current system — that there isn’t a lot of money involved in these races, so why bother? — is actually a strong point favoring transparency, because how does the public know there isn’t much money involved if the amount raised and spent isn’t disclosed?
And if it’s true that there’s not that much money involved, then filling out a simple form shouldn’t be a burden.
Better to require disclosure and happily discover that a candidate spent only a few hundred bucks to get elected, than allow candidates to collect and spend thousands from sources voters aren’t allowed to see.
There is no reason to keep the public in the dark.
The good news is that the mayor and council have it in their power to promote transparency by passing a simple ordinance requiring financial disclosure in the months leading up to an election. A few other cities have done it using easy-to-complete forms, and the Laconia City Council should, too.
They’d be playing the public’s tune.