Politicians have made "transparency" a buzz word for open and accountable government -- and they all say they’re for it. So far, however, mayoral candidate and Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez has failed to walk the talk.
Unlike three other mayoral candidates, Mayor Mike Bell and Toledo Councilmen D. Michael Collins and Joe McNamara, Ms. Lopez has failed to release personal financial documents, including credit reports.
To their credit, Mayor Bell and Mr. Collins released that information immediately on Monday -- in fact, Mr. Collins did it without being asked. Mr. McNamara said he was too busy Monday to make the records available, but vowed to release them before the Sept. 10 primary. He released personal financial documents to The Blade today.
Ms. Lopez stumbled even more, opining that transparency was important, and then changing the subject from The Blade’s request for her credit report and tax return.
"I think people want to hear about how (the candidates) are going to create jobs," Ms. Lopez said in response to a question about her personal finances.
Well, yeah, of course they do. But voters also want to know how candidates making good incomes are handling their own money before deciding to let them manage their tax dollars.
In fact, Ms. Lopez was anything but transparent, declining to estimate her credit score or credit-card debt. This is unacceptable behavior for a candidate for public office.
While relevant and important, financial information isn’t the main issue here -- it’s transparency. Voters won’t necessarily reject a candidate who carries significant credit card debt, or who has shaky credit scores. But they do want the people courting their votes to be honest and open about such information and the circumstances surrounding it.
Revealing personal information, understandably, makes many people uneasy, but it comes with the territory in a political campaign. Candidates and office-holders who are unwilling to submit to public scrutiny should find something else to do.
By releasing the information immediately, Mayor Bell and Mr. Collins -- both of whom have excellent credit scores -- have already made their opponents look less worthy. Mr. McNamara, wisely, minimized the damage by releasing documents today.
The longer Ms. Lopez waits to release the information, the less credible it will seem. Voters will suspect that she’s dragging her feet to repair financial records before releasing them.
If candidates, or their advisers, believe this stuff isn’t relevant or important, they ought to recall the 2001 campaign debacle of Ray Kest, the former Lucas County treasurer. He ran on a record of financial acumen while he and his wife carried $81,000 in debt on 10 credit cards. Those disclosures undermined Mr. Kest’s mayoral campaign, and he lost to fellow Democrat Jack Ford.
To retain any credibility with voters, Ms. Lopez must release recent credit reports and 2012 tax returns now.