Many contractors building a publicly-funded arena in Lincoln, Neb., have contributed to the mayor’s electoral fund reports the Watchdog.
The investigative report reveals that seven of the top ten donors to Mayor Chris Beutler, who is presently running for re-election, in 2013 were executives directly involved in the construction of the $186-million Pinnacle Bank Arena. They each donated between $500 and $3,000. M.A Mortenson, formally of Mortenson Construction, donated $5,000 more in 2014.
The mayor’s campaign manager doesn’t see a problem with such “pay-to-play” contributions, since he claims to act within state laws. “It’s no surprise that the same people who choose do business in Lincoln and make investments in our community want to keep Lincoln on track for the best future, which is why they are supporting Mayor Beutler,” he told the Watchdog.
Although the donations look slim, they do go a long way on the municipal level. “When it comes to buying influence, it is much easier to do it at that local level,” says Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group. “They want to endear themselves with the officeholder… Their livelihood is not just getting that one contract, but the next one and the next one and the next one.”
This form of corruption is formally forbidden on the federal level according to the U.S. Code of Regulation. On the state level, this scheme has caused the impeachment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, although he was cleared of federal charges of corruption. Pay-to-play also caused the demise of former Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray after it was found out that his 2010 campaign received funds from a prominent city contractor.
To counter this approach that can cost taxpayers dearly, the Citizens’ Campaign proposes a four-step approach to invite citizens to have their city/county enact legislation forbidding pay-to-play.