A recent newspaper article reported on the demise of a “controversial” Fort Wayne ordinance–another victim of Indiana’s lack of genuine (or even pretended) home rule.
The ordinance (which in a fair and honest world should not have been controversial) addressed the common political practice called “pay to play,” the cynical shakedown of people who want to do business with local government.
In her 13-page ruling, Judge Jennifer DeGroote blocked the city from enforcing the ordinance that restricted how much money the owners of a company could give elected officials and still bid on city contracts.
The ordinance forbid any company from bidding on a city contract if any owner, partner or principal who owns more than 10% of that company gave more than $2,000 to the political campaign of a person with responsibility for awarding contracts.
“The city of Fort Wayne attempted to address legitimate concerns regarding quid pro quo exchanges or pay to play arrangements that tie contracts for professional services to contributions made to elected government officials who have authority to influence the awards of such business,” DeGroote wrote. “However, the court finds that efforts by Fort Wayne, as well-intentioned as they may be, to address such practices in the 2018 ordinance is not permitted under current Indiana law as no such authority has been extended to municipalities.”
Specifically, DeGroote’s ruling stated that the ordinance was superseded by state law, specifically the Home Rule Act, which grants municipalities the ability to self-govern in areas not covered by the state. Elections, under state law, are the domain of the Indiana Election Commission.
Every time I see a reference to Indiana’s “Home Rule Act,” I snicker. The title belongs with other dishonest efforts to turn sows’ ears into silk purses. (George W’s “Clear Skies Act” comes to mind.) In reality, Indiana’s cities and towns operate under numerous onerous restrictions, forcing municipal policymakers to “kiss the rings” of state lawmakers in order to do much of anything.
One recent example: Indianapolis had to beg the General Assembly for permission to hold a referendum to determine whether we could tax ourselves to improve our mass transit system. It took three years, and even then, our state overlords prescribed permitted and forbidden modes of transit that they would allow us to consider paying for.
Fort Wayne’s effort to clean up an unsavory and unethical fundraising practice ran afoul of the reality that governance in Indiana operates under the heavy hand of an excessively gerrymandered state legislature.
There are two lessons here: First–as many of us have said repeatedly– Indiana really, really needs genuine home rule. And second, laws patterned after Fort Wayne’s rejected ordinance should be statewide. (Nationwide, actually.)
Perhaps a legislator from Fort Wayne–or anywhere– could introduce a similar measure during the next session of the General Assembly. It wouldn’t pass, of course, but it might shine a light on just how corrupted the process has become.