Jan Zabriskie: Timing of donation disturbing | SierraSun.com

Jan Zabriskie: Timing of donation disturbing

Timing of donation disturbing

Big-time money landed on local politics with a thud in the last election cycle, and the dust has not cleared.

A donor made a pair of contributions totaling $14,600 to two incumbents running for re-election to the airport district board. This donation dwarfed the funding of the other three candidates, who raised less than $2,000 apiece. The two incumbents did not need the money; their warchest exceeded $81,000. However, it is not the donor’s largesse that is disturbing. It is the timing of his donation.

The first half of the donation was made shortly before the airport board voted to approve a lease with the donor’s company and the second contribution came shortly after the lease was approved. The vote was uncontroversial and the donation was legal, but any donation made in this manner threatens the public’s trust in the integrity of local government.

It is too easy for the cynics among us to view the first contribution as a further inducement to vote a certain way and the second contribution as a reward for having done so.

Now that this form of political donation has intruded into local government, we should be discussing how to better protect governmental integrity against it. Lisa Wallace, a member of the airport board who voted to approve the donor’s lease agreement, bravely raised this very question at a board meeting and her good deed did not go unpunished.

She has been wrongly and mistakenly criticized as having impugned the donor’s reputation by merely raising the issue. The unwarranted criticism of Ms. Wallace should not deter public efforts to make the confluence of political donations and the votes of elected officials on matters affecting the donors more transparent. Ms. Wallace raised a good question and the time to answer it has arrived.

Jan Zabriskie


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