Do municipal politics make you listless? Are you achy and cranky when campaign season rolls along? Do you suffer from insomnia or restlessness, toss and turn at night, or have nightmares in which Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer are pinning you down until you say, “Uncles! I promise I’ll keep them
If you’ve answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you may be suffering from Irritable Pol Syndrome (IPS), a condition resulting from a lack of inclusion in the political process. Politicians choose to run for office, but their campaigns are thrust upon the public. Don’t let complacency keep you on the sidelines!
This Monday is the deadline for candidates to register for the City Council and mayoral ballot. Therefore, as of March 12, the race has officially begun and won’t end till May 12. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic! The Current’s life consultants are here to help you discover your inner campaign monitor.
Select your identity, follow the directions, and the Current will put that skip in your democracy-defending step. (And don’t forget to let us know how you’re getting on!)
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When the political signs go up, do your spirits sink? Does your spine throb from rubber-necking at roadside posters that just don’t seem right? Well, pull over your Land Cruiser and turn yourself into a ....
YARDSTICK SONNY CHIBA!
To be an election ronin, you’ve got to believe equally in the First Amendment and City Ordinance Chapter 28: Everyone has the freedom of speech, but there’s a place and a time for it. Political signs must obey certain rules. And with thousands lining the roadways in 10 districts, it’s up to you to report potential lawbreakers to the City’s Chief Sign Inspector.
Monitoring political signage involves a lot of bending, reaching, and stooping. Done improperly, it can result in serious back injury, and unfortunately, most insurance providers have yet to recognize IPS. The physical trainers at the Current have perfected the following technique:
Grab a yardstick and stand holding it out vertically away from your chest. Measure height of poster.
Lower the yard stick to a horizontal position. Measure the width, and multiply it by the length. If that number is larger than 48 square feet: BUSTED! Alert the Chief Sign Inspector.
Bending at the knees, measure the distance between the poster and the end of the property line. If the distance is shorter than two feet: BUSTED! Alert the Inspector.
Hold the crouch while you read the fine print. If the poster doesn’t clearly identify itself as a political advertisement and who paid for it: BUSTED! Report it to the Texas Ethics Commission. If you can see the sign from the road, it must also say, in full: “NOTICE: IT IS A VIOLATION OF STATE LAW (CHAPTERS 392 and 393, TRANSPORTATION CODE) TO PLACE THIS SIGN IN THE RIGHT OF WAY OF A HIGHWAY.” If not: BUSTED! Report it to the Commission.
If you don’t bust anyone immediately, don’t give up. Patience is the samurai’s way. Jot down the day you saw it. If it’s still there 91 days later: BUSTED! Report it to the Inspector.
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Does campaign finance make you itch? Does a candidate make you feel inadequate, worthless, or insignificant compared to his biggest campaign contributors? Get thy laptop to a wireless cafe and become a ...
Sure, coffee will keep you awake — if you’re a truck driver or a night watchman. To examine campaign-finance reports, you must also be alert and focused. Medical researchers may not agree on the nootropic qualities of gingko biloba (for concentration) and rosemary (for memory), but nothing will keep you quite as refreshed as a hot cup of mint tea.
In these information-age days, most candidates must file their reports electronically, including all the money they accept and how they spend it. You can search and view them online:
That’s the where; here’s the when:
30 Days Before the Election:
Due April 12
Eight Days Before the Election:
Due May 4
Three Days Before the Election:
Due May 9
What are you looking for, exactly? Aberrancies in general: names that stick out, financial ties between specific interests. In particular:
Multiple Contributions: Keep a tab of individuals who give multiple contributions to a single candidate over the season, and make sure they don’t exceed the limits: $500 per council candidate, $1,000 per mayoral candidate. The same goes for a political committee supporting a candidate.
Undervalued In-Kind: Goods and services count as contributions, and candidates report the estimated worth. Flag any in-kind contributions that seem undervalued and any campaign purchases that seem discounted.
Credit Card Companies: Sometimes candidates will try to hide their expenditures by listing VISA or MasterCard as the payee. This is a no-no.
High Profile Bidders: The “legal signatory” of a company applying for a “high profile” city contract (for example, worth more than $1 million or of significant community interest), can’t donate to a council or mayoral campaign until 30 days after the contract’s been awarded. To find out who’s applying call the Contract Services Division: 207-7260.
By all means, report any findings to the Ethics Review Board through the City Attorney’s office (207-8992), but keep in mind the worst they can do is issue a $500 fine. Send it our way if you really want to stick it to somebody (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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Feeling out of the loop? Is watching the West Wing’s fourth season for the third time your definition of understanding political intrigue? Well, straighten your bow-tie and get ready to become a ...
REFRESHMENT TABLE BOND!
The art of intelligence is in gathering more knowledge than you give away. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to keep up with the Walker Report’s blog (Walkerreport.blogspot.com) and attend as many listed events as possible. Stick close to the cookie-and-coffee tables, eat slowly, and keep your ears open. Deep cover can be treacherous, so always remember you’ve got a friend at the Current who will respect your anonymity to the extent the law allows. In the meantime, here’s your reading list:
Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology by Michael Williams
International Spy Museum’s Handbook of Practical Spying by Jack Barth
Listening: The Forgotten Skill: A Self-Teaching Guide by Madelyn Burley-Allen