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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Smart Bombs: Legislating in the dark

Remember this absurd line from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi regarding the Affordable Care Act: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

In the wee hours of Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the 1,603-page omnibus spending bill that few, if any, members read in its entirety. So they’ll be learning what’s in it with each passing day. More Republicans than Democrats voted for it. And in another echo of the Affordable Care Act, when the bill was posted online late Wednesday night, the server failed.

Here’s an item they may or may not have known about: On page 1,599 of the bill, an unknown representative added an enormous campaign finance revision that will allow contributors to give 10 times more to political parties. New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore tweeted: “In a two-year cycle, you and your spouse could give about $130,000 to a party committee. Now you can give $1.3 million.”

Congressional defenders of the change point out that these contributions would be transparent and would help the parties regain some of the clout they’ve lost to “dark money” super-PACs, which have sucked up donations from wealthy folks who choose to remain anonymous.

And who gives these secret donors cover? Congress. The DISCLOSE Act would require groups that spend $10,000 or more on election ads to reveal the source of the funds, but Congress won’t pass it. Instead, the House has just granted its political parties tenfold access to wealthy donors, without holding a single debate and without revealing who authored the change.

It’s enough to make Pelosi blush.

High and mighty. Thoughts and prayers to Spokane Valley, which is undergoing a public health crisis.

That’s the rationale the City Council used for placing an emergency item on the agenda regarding medical marijuana. If it weren’t deemed urgent, the council would’ve had to post a public notice and delay action.

Thanks to 15 years of inaction from the Washington Legislature, the struggle to regulate medical marijuana is real and it’s vexed many communities. But this is the first time I’ve heard it described as a crisis. Council members say arrests for driving under the influence are up, and, apparently, medical pot is the culprit.

In 2012, 10,000 Americans died from drunken driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was one death every 51 minutes. City councils did not respond by declaring public health crises, which leads me to believe the real problem is an outsized fear of marijuana. It’s difficult to imagine the Valley council, or any council, enacting a broad shutdown of businesses selling booze due to DUIs.

The big freak-out extends to Liberty Lake, too, which in October became the first Washington city to adopt an ordinance that allows the police to sanction minors in public who give the appearance of having smoked pot. Possession isn’t necessary. Liberty Lake police officers have issued no tickets to date.

Nonetheless, the Valley council is considering a similar measure for its young people. Presumably, police would be trained in detecting recent pot use by spotting telltale signs. Since one of the side effects is enhanced paranoia, perhaps the law should be extended to adults, too.

ENHanCED Obfuscation. A George Orwell quote sums up my thoughts on divulging torture tactics: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

If he were alive, he’d also have some insights into rebranding “torture.” As he once wrote, the aim of political language is “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.
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