Wonders of the internet: First we shame the hookers, then the politicians

Since 1997, the St. Paul Police Department has been posting on the internet the names and pictures of people who have been arrested on prostitution charges. From the outset, this exercise in public humiliation has been questioned on grounds of both morality and utility. Granted, some john from Maplewood might cringe at the prospect of his unflattering mugshot ricocheting around cyberspace, where, God forbid, his in-laws might catch a glimpse of his hidden life. But for the drug addicted streetwalker from Frogtown--more victim than criminal, don't you think?--this practice seems like little more than a nasty bit of piling on.

These days, however, the government's use of the internet for purposes of shaming targets into doing "the right thing" is not restricted to hookers and johns. Increasingly, politicians are finding their names posted by other government agencies with whom they have run afoul.

For the past several years, for instance, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has devoted a webpage to outing political candidates who have failed to submit their required fundraising and expenditure paperwork. The board's most recent report--updated February 9--lists some 118 candidates for public office in Minnesota who missed their January 3 deadline for the 2005 election cycle.

So who are these law-flouting slackers? There are a few familiar names among the bunch (including State Senator John Hottinger, perennial gadfly/judicial activist Greg Wersal). But mostly the list consists of a slew of failed, fringe candidates. The breakdown by party affiliation: 58 Republicans, 42 DFLers, 13 Independence Party folk, three Greens and two "others."

Under Minnesota campaign law, violators face a five dollar fine for each day--following formal notification--after which they fail to file. In cases of chronic non-compliance, a candidate may be penalized as much as thousand dollars.

"We're just trying to entice them to file their reports," explains Jeanne Olson, the executive director of the campaign board. But, says Olson, the current level of non-compliance seems to be fairly typical. Which begs the question: Is it time to start running candidates' mugshots, too? You know, just like they do with the hookers.