Friday, December 23, 2005

Silent Night

The Race is On, but this blog will take a break until the New Year. Note that there are a few upcoming dates worthy of note: candidates who filed for more than one judicial office in the recent filing period have until December 27th to decide which race they really want to run in. The next filing period for judicial seats begins on January 3 and runs through the 10th. And the cattle call for state candidate petition challenges begins on January 4th (though this blog should be back by then).

In the meantime, why not poke around the Sunshine Database? Amaze your friends at holiday parties with your encyclopedic knowledge of your public official’s campaign warchest. The Database analyzes the official semi-annual reports filed by candidates for statewide, legislative, and judicial office, including the paper filers. If you’ve never looked, now’s your chance. Click here for financial profiles of all sitting House members, and here for all sitting Senators, and here for all incumbent statewides. (challengers coming after certification!) Click here for profiles of large donors, and here for the top twenty Career Patrons of the six statewides and the four tops. Go here to look up giving by a particular donor.

Have fun!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fair Campaigns

It took a while to tabulate the results, but we can now say definitively that 441 candidates filed with the State Board of Elections for statewide, legislative or judicial office during the recent filing period. 155 of them, or 35%, also signed the Code of Fair Campaign Practices. Legislative candidates led the way, with 47% signing the code, followed by statewide candidates at 35% and judicial candidates at 13%. To be fair, ICPR has been asking statewide and legislative candidates to sign the Code for the past four cycles; we haven’t ask judicial candidates to sign before, and they usually don’t return to campaigning like officers of the other two branches.

This is the highest percentage of statewide and legislative candidates who have signed the Code during the filing period in recent memory. Still, we hope more will sign the Code and conduct positive, informative, and educational campaigns. Candidates can sign the Code after filing, and ICPR will be writing to all candidates for statewide, legislative, and judicial office to ask them to do so.

The State Board of Elections had added a search function to its website to help voters find out who has signed and who hasn’t. From the Campaign Disclosure page, click on Candidates, and then input an election year and click the box labeled “Yes – Fair Campaign”. And, as always, ICPR will be publishing the names on our website in late January.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Clarifying Statements (of Economic Interest)

The Trib reported over the weekend on income received by the former chair of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board from Bear Stearns, the company financing many of the deals before the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. The former Chair claimed that the payments were contractually due to him based on work he’d done over a decade ago, but the payments stopped as soon as the Trib started poking around (so much for the contract; seems they were contingent on something). The whole thing looks bad, and that’s what generates big splashy stories in the Sunday paper.

The Trib quoted me in the story; here’s the paragraph:

"This is a perfect example of why the law is inadequate," said David Morrison, deputy director of Campaign for Political Reform. " There ought to be an improvement so the public understands the difference between a $1 million interest and $1,000."

So, to clarify my comments, the “law” I was referring to is the law requiring Statements of Economic Interest. Statements required under state law are far less specific than those required of federal officeholders. The federal statements include a rough estimate of the value of holdings, which is why stories about federal officials will report they have interests worth between, say, $50,000 and $100,000. State forms require only that you list the name of an interest that is worth more than $5,000, or in some instances $1,200. The forms offer no way of determining the relative worth of different interests, no way of identifying the nature of the interest, and no real way of determining where conflicts of interest might lie.

That’s the point of requiring statements of economic interest. The vast majority of public officials in Illinois are part time. We expect that most elected officials will have conflicts of interest, and these statements are to help the public determine where those conflicts might lie; where, in short, our representatives might be most tempted to represent an interest other than ours.

Statements are now available on the web. But the still don’t tell you much about who filed them and where they may have conflicts, as this story makes clear.

Quint

As we noted last week, candidates for judicial office can file for as many openings as there are where they live. Come the March Primary, some precincts will have as many as 12 circuit court seats on the ballot, though candidates won’t be able to file for some of those seats until the January Filing Period. Candidates could file for as many as seven seats (nine, if you include the Appellate Court) if they lived in the right part of the state. No one did, but one, Margaret Ann Carrey of Chicago, filed for five seats.

All told, 147 candidates filed for 49 judicial seats, including 13 candidates who filed for two seats, 11 who filed for three, and two who filed for four seats. These multiple filers have done nothing wrong; they have taken advantage of the rules to find the most advantageous contest for the judicial post they want to hold. They have five business days from the end of filing to size up the fields and selectively withdraw until they are running in no more than one contest. As a Christmas present, they have until the close of business on Tuesday, December 27th to decide.

And don’t forget, the second round of filing is coming early next month – another 14 judicial offices are on the ballot, and candidates for those can file between January 3 and January 10. Not to mention the possibility that some incumbents who forgot to file for retention might challenge the open-ness of their seats, and the threat that the legislature will take away seats in the 19th and 22nd circuits. Judicial elections are worth watching.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Torts and Detriments

Campaign contributors gave over $9 million to the two candidates for Illinois’ last open Supreme Court seat. That dollar figure, more than six times the cost of the previous Supreme Court race, shattered national records, and was all the more striking because the race was in the state’s least populated Supreme Court district (only 566,000 ballots were cast there; contrast that with the 1 million ballots in the Second District, and 1.4 million in the First).

Most of that money came from groups that support or oppose tort reform. And as the Tribune points out this morning, it’s hard not to wonder if that money influences the Court's rulings.

The Trib quotes Ed Murnane, whose Civil Justice League gave over a million to support the winning candidate and who filed a brief in the Philip Morris case, as saying, "Karmeier's election changed the vote." And he may be right.

But even if Murnane’s candidate had lost, the same story could be written about the Philip Morris decision. Had the other guy won, observers would wonder if the millions in personal injury trial lawyer money had swayed the Court.

These questions will continue to come up whenever the Court rules on a high profile case involving personal injuries. You will not see these stories about divorce cases, or juvenile law, or wills and estates, or criminal convictions. That’s because divorce lawyers, and criminal attorneys, and the rest, played no significant role in the 2004 election. Tort cases make up a small share of the Court’s docket, but accounted for nearly all of the campaign money. Take away the millions of dollars in contributions from special interests, and the Court will have room to issue decisions without the criticism that campaign donors called the tune.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Judicial Filing Follies

Every square inch of Illinois is in one and only state legislative district, one and only one state Senate district, and one and only one Congressional district. Illinoisans have only one governor. Judicial offices work a little differently. You may live in a circuit with several openings, and maybe you also have one or more subcircuit seats to fill. You could be voting on as many as 11 circuit court openings, if you live in the right area (the 12th Subcircuit in Cook County). Some judicial aspirants see that not as confusion but as opportunity.

Judicial candidates can and regularly do file to run for more than one judicial seat. Some candidates this week filed for as many as four offices. These double-, triple-, and quadruple-dippers have a few extra days to decide which seat they really want to run for, and they will have to selectively withdraw until they are running in no more than one contest.

This year, judicial filing may be even more complicated than usual. There are three vacancies in the 19th Circuit and another two in the newly-created 22nd Circuit, for which a total of 8 candidates filed to date and maybe more to come before the filing deadline on Monday. (the 22nd Circuit was carved out of the 19th last year). The Board is accepting petitions for those seats but also notes that Speaker Madigan and Senate President Jones have told the State Board of Elections that “a bill will be called in January” which will eliminate these seats. There’s apparently a disagreement over staffing the new subcircuits in those circuits.

Judicial candidates who don’t find a race to their liking will get another crack at filing. The Board will hold a second, Special Judicial Filing Period from January 3-10. That filing period is for the dozen or so vacancies created too late to give candidates time to circulate petitions for the December period, but in time to put those seats on the March ballot. Don’t be surprised if some of those who file this week come back in January looking for just the right contest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Break out the Champaign

Disclosure is all we’ve got in Illinois -- that’s why it’s so important to defend against efforts to evade disclosure. The Champaign News-Gazette agrees, and added its pages to the growing chorus of voices who recognize that basic idea.

But don’t take my word for it – take their words:

“Illinois' campaign disclosure laws often have been described as the Wild West of election laws — there are few limits on who can give to what. But nearly all contributions and expenditures have to be disclosed. That was the problem with the Justice For All Foundation. It gave money to a subsidiary group but never disclosed all the donors for the lump sum, an apparent attempt to circumvent disclosure laws.”

They conclude:

“it's not like the executives at the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth & Prosperity were political neophytes. Whitley is head of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, is a former revenue department director and has been part of the Springfield scene for 30 years. The treasurer of the group is Greg Baise, head of the Illinois Manufacturers Association and a former state transportation secretary. The chairman of the group is Ron Gidwitz, a Republican candidate for
governor.

"These men, who all profess that they want clean government in Illinois, should know better. They need to come clean, disclose the sources of the money to (now) Justice Karmeier, and stop making a mockery out of Illinois' campaign disclosure laws.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Code Talkers

Part of the packet of materials candidates file when they run for office is the Code of Fair Campaign Practices. The Code is a voluntary, non-binding pledge created by the state legislature and administered by the State Board of Elections. It gives candidates an opportunity to forswear negative campaigning and other unsavory practices; it allows candidates to declare that they intend to take the high road on the campaign trail.

But not many candidates signed on to the Code when they filed their petitions. Of 421 petitions filed yesterday, only 148, or about a third, came with the Code. We hope this doesn’t mean a nasty campaign season is in our future.

Who didn’t sign the Code? It’s easier to say who did. Of the Democratic statewide filers, only Paul Mangieri turned one in. Of the Republican statewide hopefuls, only state Sen. Bill Brady and Jeremy Cole filed the Code. Jeremy Cole, you say? Yes, Jeremy Cole, of Canton, Illinois, who’s running for Lt.. Gov.

Campaigns are supposed to be a dialogue about where the state should go, with an emphasis on voter education and finding common ground. All too often, though, they can become painful to watch, bringing out the worst in candidates and turning voters away from the process. One sitting state rep, who filed petitions but not a Code, told the Tribune, "This is the friendliest you'll see the candidates be for a few months. It's like a prefight weigh-in." We hope he’s wrong, and that those filers who did not sign the Code will reconsider. Signing the Code is one sign that candidates want to change the tone of state politics. We hope more of them will do so.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Filling In Period

Today is the day people who want to run for office with a party endorsement in 2006 begin submitting their petitions for the March Primary. The Primary is where the parties fill in their official slates of candidates, and so the filing period is the time when party officials, and incumbent office holders, are most vulnerable. Anyone who wants to run – office holder, serious challenger, gadfly wacko – can file for office.

This is also the first movement in an elaborate dance that leads up to swearing-in. The first phase involves sizing the field. Incumbents tend to file early, both because first filers get the top ballot position but also because it may give them time to find other candidates, for their own race or others. Incumbents prefer to run unopposed, but some take a “more the merrier” attitude, especially in down-ticket races where the signature requirements are low and voters often have less information on candidates (more on that later).

After filing comes certification, by which time some candidates may be challenged and removed, some may have changed their minds and withdrawn, and some candidates who are ineligible may, by lack of challenge, be allowed to stay on the ballot. And then… Well, it’s a long dance.

Candidates can file through next Monday, the 19th. About half of all candidates will likely file today. Another third will file on the last day, angling for the last ballot position which, if you can’t be first, is presumed to be best. The rest will dribble in on the other four days. As of today, the race is truly on.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dash of Disclosure

Disclosure is all that Illinois has when it comes to campaign finance regulation – that’s why ICPR is so hawkish about violations. The State Board of Elections does a great job of disseminating the reports, and most political committees do a good job of reporting. But there are a small handful trying to evade disclosure.

Today’s Tribune editorial explains why the Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity ought to come clean about the sources of their funds. They funneled over $400,000 to candidates in the 2004 elections without ever saying where the money came from. The editorial quotes Coalition co-founder Ron Gidwitz as saying that the Coalition promised donors that their names would not be disclosed.

Why would anyone make that promise, knowing that for over three decades Illinois has required disclosure for groups trying to sway elections? The 2006 elections are just around the corner. What the Coalition has done is display a road-map to funnel money around the disclosure reports. Voters deserve better.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

USA Today, Tomorrow Illinois

One of the great things about the Internet is that you no longer have to stay in a hotel to read USA Today; Google News will deliver it to your desktop. In the last week, the McPaper been on a roll, reminding those of us who spend most of our time in Illinois that other states are facing problems similar to ours, and some are finding solutions worthy of study.

In an editorial last week called “Political wining and dining bring ethical indigestion” about US Rep. Randy Cunningham and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the paper wrote, “what stands out about these shenanigans is how cheaply some members of Congress and their aides are willing to compromise their integrity.” They conclude, “there’s something wrong with a system in which business as usual looks so much like bribery that it’s tough to tell the difference.”

And yesterday’s editorial, “Voters take back elections”, lauds the legislators of Connecticut who have boldly carved out fundraiser-free territory on the campaign trail. “While Congress wallows in the ethical swamp where money and politics meet, one more state just found a way out. Voters there will pay for campaigns, which might be the bargain of the century. They'll save countless dollars doled from public coffers to the favor seekers who fund campaigns now.”

What will be Illinois’ contribution to this national dialogue?

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.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Following Connecticut's Lead (update)

A former governor in disgrace after a federal investigation into extensive corruption, mounting allegations of campaign finance abuses among state and local public officials, and a growing clamor from voters for reform; hard to tell if we’re talking about Illinois or Connecticut.

The big difference is that Connecticut has addressed its problems head-on with sweeping new campaign finance rules to limit the influence of large donors and – perhaps most importantly – allow candidates for public office to opt out of the private funding rat race entirely.

At 3 am last night, the Connecticut General Assembly gave final approval to a new plan that will ban giving by lobbyists and state contractors, create a public financing option for statewide and legislative candidates (judges are appointed in Connecticut), and regulate in-kind contributions. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has indicated she will sign the bill.

The bill isn’t perfect. Notably, it doesn’t take full effect until 2010, and some are concerned it doesn’t do enough to reign in the power of party leaders. It will likely be litigated.

But the Connecticut General Assembly has tackled this issue directly and with full public debate that stretched out over two months. This is the first time a legislature has voted to provide public financing for legislative candidates, meaning that incumbents have voted to help their challengers. Connecticut deserves applause for their handling of this issue. Let’s hope those similarities between our two states continue.