Thursday, October 27, 2005

Power Markets

As an industry, electric utilities have contributed over $1.3 million to Illinois state candidates since January 1, 2003. Taking advantage of Illinois’ no-holds-barred campaign finance rules, these funds have come directly from the utilities as well as from directors, officers, employees, and corporate-sponsored PACs. In most states, such large corporate giving would be illegal.

As the Illinois legislature and regulatory authorities consider utility demands for rate hikes that could cost households hundreds more each year, utilities are fighting back with generous campaign giving, concentrating their largesse in powerful legislative leaders.

For a full analysis of how campaign giving might influence the debate over public policy, see ICPR’s newest Issue Briefing, Power Markets: How the Legislature Determines Who Can Sell Electricity (and How!)

Reformers Praise Illinois State Board of Elections

Our State Board of Elections was lauded for its campaign disclosure system by the California Voter Foundation. They looked at on-line reporting systems, campaign finance laws, accessibility and technical usability across all 50 states and ranked Illinois 5th overall. Actually, they said our electronic filing program was the best in the nation, but faults in our disclosure law pulled our ranking down. We agree that the SBE website is terrific, and with the 48-hour reports in the final days before an election, anyone with Internet access can get virtually real-time reports on who's giving how much to which candidates. Of course, part of why Illinois make such as effort in disclosure is because, unlike nearly every other state, we have no limits on how much anyone or anything can give to anybody. But kudos to the State Board on a job well done.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Updating Aesop

We all know that when the tortoise and the hare decided to race, old slow and steady crossed the finish line first. But real life isn’t always so predictable. Take ethics reform. Proposals have been bouncing around the Capitol since last Spring, but haven't moved yet. Meanwhile, the governor's new ALLKIDS plan is also seeking legislative attention. Which will pass first?

Inspired by our General Assembly, ICPR is proud to present The Tortoise and the Hare: 2005. Check back to ICPR's homepage to see who wins this race.

Civic Footprint

Our old friends at the Center for Neighborhood Technology have a new website to show off, and it's worth checking out. The Civic Footprint site uses mapping software to help voters understand how they fit into local, state, and federal offices. Right now, the site works only for Cook County, but I think they plan to expand it outward. Plug in your address and the site will give you a map of your house with overlapping district boundaries for state reps and senators, members of congress, County Board, partisan committeemembers, and other offices. If you've ever wondered who speaks for you at all of these different levels, or why you and your neighbor share a State Rep but not a County Board member, go see for yourself.

Where's Rep. Giles?

In 2004, ICPR filed its first ever complaints with the State Board of Elections, noting that two political committees controlled by State Rep. Calvin Giles had failed to file required financial disclosure reports in over a year. Before we filed the complaints, we urged Giles to get his reports in, and we later found out that others had, too. But only after we made an administrative case out of it did Giles come through.

It was with some pride that we noted Giles filed on time last August. But now comes word that Giles is once again shirking. His long refusal to tell anybody how he funded his campaign – even as he voted for bills that strengthened campaign disclosure – resulted in severe financial penalties. Giles now owes $140K in fines, more than he had in his fund last June 30. And just like before, he’s stopped answering requests that he pay his fines – fines that he voted for as a legislator.

Whatever this sorry tale says about Rep. Giles, in some ways it says more about the State Board of Elections, whose statutory authority to enforce its own rulings is patchy. While knocking candidates off the ballot for non-payment may or may not be constitutional, surely there must be a way to put some teeth in that bulldog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Candidate’s New Clothes

Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax (not the website but the one you have to pay for) has some good news on the ethics front: the governor and his campaign co-chairs are talking about an ethics bill for Veto. Many were shocked that his system-rocking bill, filed last May and the result of weeks of talks and planning, was sitting in drydock while his brand new AllKids plan was set to cruise. Then Carol Marin writes a column in the Sun-Times. And Rep. John Fritchey, Comptroller Dan Hynes, and us reformers chime in. And Phil Ponce interviewed the governor on Chicago Tonight about his ethics plans. The next thing you know, Blagojevich, Madigan and Jones are towing that ethics skiff toward the water. (An aside: is anybody else tired of the “train and station” metaphors?). Veto is October 25-27 and November 2-4, and as they say, anything’s possible when the legislature is in session.

Monday, October 17, 2005

More, please

Once in power, some elected officials resent the idea that Illinois politics needs to be reformed. But a new poll in today’s Tribune shows that voters think the job isn’t done, and that the state needs more serious reforms to earn their trust again. And with the long spate of headlines, at the local, state, and national levels, who can blame them? Even sausage makers have cleanliness standards. Public office should be the same.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Who Are the Low Numbers?

Driving to work this morning I noticed that the black Mercedes in front of me had a three-digit plate -- 240-something – and I got to wondering, does the owner know somebody? Scott Fawell made it pretty clear that it was near impossible for drivers to get low-numbered plates without personally knowing Fawell or Ryan, or both, when Ryan was Secretary of State. It’s been seven years since they had control over those plates, but they had control for eight years; how many people who got low digits because their “lifetimes” with Citizens for Ryan were high enough are still driving around with them? Sure, some made the transition to new bosses, but how many have low plates but expired clout?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Newton Minow to Speak at ICPR Media Conference: November 15

ICPR invites you to join Carol Marin, Prof. Ken Goldstein, Mike Lawrence, Paul Taylor, and attorney, author and former FCC Chairman Newton Minow for a discussion of the role of broadcast news in covering elections and candidates. “The Most Powerful Voice in America: How Candidates and Voters Speak to Each Other Through the Media” is a forum examining how broadcasters cover candidates and what viewers want, with input from media observers, academics and seasoned political veterans. Registration is required; to sign up, click here.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Daily Grind

At least four stories ran today on Scott Fawell's testimony yesterday and they all ran with the same focus: Ryan paid campaign funds to his relatives for little or no work. This may have been the main focus of the prosecution's argument, but only one paper (read them all to see which one) went on to say what was really wrong with the SoS office.

Up until 1998, there was no law against spending campaign funds on personal use. It's still legal to hire relatives. There has long been a law requiring campaigns to pay "fair market value" for expenditures, but that has usually been understood to mean that campaigns can't pay below market, getting an under-the-table in-kind contribution, rather than over paying, which is what Fawell suggests Citizens for Ryan was doing.

Campaigns have long been used as personal piggy banks. Some used their funds to pay for retirement home, parking tickets, even a funeral. And all of it was legal (provided they reported it to the IRS as income). Some of it still is; under circumstances like those, the late Sen. Paul Simon used to compare campaign contributions with legalized bribery. The misuse of campaign funds is shocking and offensive, but it's not the only thing Fawell discussed yesterday.

What also came out was how the pressure on state workers to raise campaign funds cheated taxpayers. Employees of the Secretary of State's office were expected to sell fundraising tickets -- or buy them. Previous Safe Road trials have shown that some employees took bribes to get enough cash to buy the tickets, and as a result licensed drivers who were unsafe at any speed. Yesterday's testimony noted that other employees took to looting the petty cash --- stealing money from the state -- to cover their ticket allotment. Their behavior is shameful, but not nearly as bad as the supervisors who made clear that promotions and raises depended not on job performance but on fundraising prowess.

Illinois has made some progress. Soliciting state employees on the job is now a crime. What insiders call "the ask" is sufficient to justify a criminal charge, even if no funds change hands. Fawell's testimony yesterday showed how deeply corrupted the operation had become. And while paying relatives with campaign funds for no-show work is unseemly, let's not lose sight of the big picture: under Ryan, the SoS office was thoroughly perverted for political purposes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Maybe it grows on trees?

Media stories report that the George Ryan Legal Defense Fund has finally filed a report describing its finances. The report covers the period December 9, 2004-August 4, 2005, during which time the fund raised $240K and spent $369K. The report does not describe when the fund raised at least another $233K, nor if it spent any funds prior to December, 2004.

During the 2001-2002 reporting cycle, Citizens for George Ryan became a de facto legal defense fund, spending at least $1.8M on legal fees. That’s $78K a month; substantially more than the $53K a month the legal defense fund was spending, but then again, the PAC was paying legal defense for more than just George Ryan: they retained multiple law firms to cover several staffers who were then under investigation.

Ryan’s defense team has made much of his humble origins and modest lifestyle. His co-defendant even bragged about how cheap his suit cost. But let’s not forget that this is a guy who can summon large amounts of money when he wants to. Even out of office. And we have no idea how much of this cash came from former contractors, or others with less-than-pure motives. Until they release the names, we’ll never know.

In the meantime, the Fund is still raising money through this website. If it’s the site that’s bringing in so much cash, maybe ICPR should hire their webdesigners.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Not Over Yet

The Fifth District’s Supreme Court race is supposed to be over. Lloyd Karmeier won and has served on the Court since last December. But the fallout from the race continues. Gordon Maag, who lost both the Supreme Court race and his bid for retention on the Appellate Court, has filed a second defamation suit, this time in federal court. According to the Madison and St. Clair Record, Maag has filed suit against the Chicagoland, Illinois, and U.S. Chambers of Commerce; the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth, and Prosperity; the Illinois Manufacturing Association, the Illinois Civil Justice League, the Illinois Business Roundtable, and the American Tort Reform Association. And their leaders, in their official capacities and individually. Maag is once again seeking $110 million in damages. The Record notes that Maag’s first defamation suit, in state court, was thrown out in June. The Record does not note that the U.S. Chamber, a named defendant in the suit, is a major investor in the Record.

What a circus… Imagine if every losing candidate took their case to court.

This is just the latest example of why Illinois should be looking to change the way judicial elections are conducted, including allowing candidates to opt out of the special interest rat race by opting in to a public financing program.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Richard Parillo and the Legal Defense Fund

The Tribune's coverage of the George Ryan/Larry Warner trial reports today on a trip to a 1995 Chicago Bulls playoff game:

"In addition to the casino trips, Fawell testified about a "bonzai" junket to a May 1995 Chicago Bulls playoff game in Orlando. Ryan, Fawell, Warner and several others took a quick trip to Walt Disney World and the Bulls game on a plane owned by Ryan's longtime supporter, insurance company owner Richard Parillo."

The story describes Parillo as a "longtime supporter" and an "insurance company owner" but does not identify him as the head of George Ryan's legal defense fund. Ryan announced the creation of a legal defense fund with a press release from the governor's office in 2002. And when ICPR pressed Ryan to make the fund abide by the same disclosure rules that cover campaign funds, we received a reply not from Ryan but from Richard Parillo. Click here to read his reply.

Note that, despite Ryan's promises to release the names of donors by December 1, 2002 (and annually thereafter) and Parillo's promise to run the trust "with the utmost integrity", the names of donors have never been released.