Monday, December 05, 2005

Stone Soup

For Thanksgiving my four-year-old’s daycare made Stone Soup. Everybody brought something that was thrown in the pot, along with a stone, and with a little help from the cook what they ate for lunch was not only hot and nutritious but came with a good story, too. Some kids brought carrots, some potatoes; we were charged with celery. The kids know what went into the pot, the teacher knows who brought what, and everybody knows who ate what. Soup is like that.

Grown ups, though, sometimes want to hide behind soup. “I don’t know what happened, it’s all soup to me.” Government critics sometimes complain about an alphabet soup of agencies. And now Doug Whitley of the Illinois Chamber claims that vegetable soup is too dense for him to understand.

Whitley wears many hats, and one of them is Board Member of the Coalition for Jobs Growth and Prosperity. The Coalition raised over $400K for political candidates in 2004 but they have steadfastly refused to own up to who gave it to them. $400 large is a lot of cash to just find lying around at the end of the day. But Whitley can’t be bothered to find out where it came from.

"It's impossible to legitimately report who gave the money that made it into the political process" and whose money didn't, Whitley said. "It's like vegetable soup," the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported over the weekend.

The problem here is the Coalition’s refusal to observe state law that requires segregated funds for political activities. Anyone who raises or spends $3,000 or more to spend in support of or opposition to candidates or ballot issues must form a political committee and register with the State Board of Elections. Those are the rules that just about everybody else follows (even Justice for All, the other group ICPR filed complaints against, admitted they should have disclosed their funding and did so). The FDA requires Campbell’s to list its ingredients, and the Illinois Chamber follows those rules, so Whitley must know how easily it can be done. But he wants the public to believe that the Coalition can’t seem to figure that out.

What Whitley describes is a loophole big enough to drive an election through. Illinois has no limits on political finance; we’re the only state with such a wide-open, Wild West style of campaign fundraising. All we have is disclosure. Illinois does a really good job of disclosure, but it can disclose only what the committees report.

Would that my four-year-old’s Thanksgiving lunch ended up with an untraceable $400K in the pot.

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