Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Makes Me Want to Puke"

A pair of articles in today’s New York Times takes a hard look at how campaign donations are changing the dynamics of state high court races, and court rulings, too. The focus of the first is on Ohio , where judges of both political parties vote with their donors over 70% of the time. A sidebar looks at West Virginia and Illinois , where the paper also draws lines between large donations to winning candidates and subsequent rulings in favor of those donors. Justice Larry V. Starcher of the West Virginia Supreme Court sums it up thusly: “It makes me want to puke to see massive amounts of out-of-state money come in and buy a seat on our court.”

Giving by litigants and their representatives has be a growing practice in judicial races. As long as Illinois allows unlimited giving to candidates for the bench, donors will be tempted to use judicial elections as just another way to achieve their policy goals. And it doesn’t matter if the donations sway the thinking of individual jurists or merely wins victories for lawyers who already think the way that donors want, the end result is the same: court rulings that favor donors on the winning side.

There’s another casualty when litigants try to buy results: public confidence in the courts is eroded. A recent survey sponsored by ICPR and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU found that 85% of Illinoisans believe that court rulings are influenced by campaign contributions. As a result, Illinoisans are more likely to think that jurists are “political” (70.4%) than “fair and impartial” (51.6%) or “honest and trustworthy” (53.6%). Even highly qualified jurists are splattered by the mud thrown up by the campaigns that get them on the bench.

ICPR believes that the solution is in ending the arms race and allowing candidates to opt into a clean money program. Legislation has twice passed the Senate with bipartisan support (though, to be clear, it has never been assigned to a House Committee) that would address this problem at the Supreme Court level. This year, there are no Supreme Court seats on the ballot, though we’ll be watching the two contested Appellate Court seats to see if those races aren’t facing the same issues. The Third Branch of government deserves protection from the kind of beating campaign contributors are delivering.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Seek and Find

Since 1998, Illinois election law has required that candidates disclose the occupation and employer of individuals who contribute more than $500 to their campaigns. ICPR used to issue report cards that graded candidates on their compliance. Initially, campaigns were spotty in their reporting, but after we handed out a few D’s and F’s, they recognized the value of this kind of reporting. We had a few rounds where pretty much everybody got A’s, and then we moved on to other issues.

Occupation and employer is back in the news with Gov. Blagojevich insisting that the Topinka campaign is in violation of the law, as in L-A-W, for failing to report occupation and employer for some of her donors. We took the bait, and sure enough, Topinka’s disclosure reports fail to include occupation and employer for some 85 of the 512 individual contributions to her campaign of more than $500. Then again, Blago’s D2s are also missing this information for a few of his donors; his campaign shows 486 individual contribution that ought to have occupation and employer, and that data is missing for four of them. We hope both candidates will C-O-M-P-L-Y with the L-A-W and amend their reports to include this information.

Some individuals can be hard to find, even after they’ve given you a big check. They must be, or both campaigns would have filed amended D2s with the information. But since they both seem to be too busy preparing for the debates, maybe our loyal blog readers can help us out. Here’s a list of the 77 people who are missing occupation and employer data (some gave more than once). If you know who there folks are, drop us a line and we’ll add it to the Sunshine Database, even if the candidates can’t get it filed with the State Board of Elections.

Note: If you should see yourself on this list, know that a candidate you donated to needs to talk with you in order to fully fill out their disclosure reports. Please get in touch with them.

Jeffrey Benjamin
2902 King James Ave
Saint Charles IL 60174

Joanne Bloom
5490 S South Shore Dr
Chicago IL 60615

Gary Bollier
0N456 Prescott Dr
Winfield IL 60190

Leonard Bucaro
17 Blossom Ct
South Barrington IL 60010

Gregory Carlin
900 N Michigan Ave Ste 1900
Chicago IL 60611

Vivian Carnes
330 S Michigan Ave Apt 1511
Chicago IL 60604

Leslie Carpenter
3709 Cabeza De Vaca Cir
Irving TX 75062

Alan Chu
16459 Newbury Ct
Crest Hill IL 60435

Katherine Combs
100 E Huron St Apt 2803
Chicago IL 60611

Gary & Kristy Danielson
10112 Magnolia Bnd
Bonita Springs FL 34135

Patti Davidson
7 Stoney Ct
Bloomington IL 61704

Margarita Dejesus
5731 W Eddy Street
Chicago IL 60634

Sherry Denise
2626 N Lakeview Ave
Chicago IL 60614

Terry Diamond
1 N Franklin St Ste 900
Chicago IL 60606

Robert Disilvestro
445 E North Water St
Chicago IL 60611

William Froelich
18321 Kickapoo Ln
Hudson IL 61748

Nick Gakhal 57
Yorkshire Woods
Oak Brook IL 60523

Danny Gallagher
134 S Young St
Columbia IL 62236

Maria Teresa Galvan
10515 Nevada Ave
Melrose Park IL 60164

Robert Geras
55 E Erie St Apt 2905
Chicago IL 60611

Nick Giannakopoulos
1418 Redbud Lane
Glenview IL 60025

Lawrence Gill
2130 N Lincoln Park W Apt 15N
Chicago IL 60614

Jill Gruchot
4457 N Springfield Ave
Chicago IL 60625

Abdul Halani
4404 Hammersmith Ln
Glenview IL 60026

Steven Harfield
700 Carriage Way
Deerfield IL 60015

Dorothy Hawkins
62 Bluestone Dr
Saint Charles IL 60174

Robert Hedges
9462 Cascade Rd
Rochester IL 62563

Lawrence Hickey
1030 W Wrightwood Ave Apt E
Chicago IL 60614

Charles Izzo
1052 Mayfield Dr
Glendale Hts IL 60139

Thomas Jacob
35 Sunset Rd
Bloomington IL 61701

James Jedynak
2222 Bracken Ln
Northfield IL 60093

Joan Kelly
9516 Hamlin Ave
Evanston IL 60203

James Kemp
8 Norris Dr Burr
Ridge IL 60527

John Korolis
1700 Pheasant Trail
Mt. Prospect IL 60056

Samrajya Kuchipudi
18 Hamilton Ln
Oak Brook IL 60523

Sucheta Kulkarni
15W700 90th St
Burr Ridge IL 60527

Eloise Landa
PO Box 11223
Chicago IL 60611

Annabelle Lim-Greene
1360 N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago IL 60610

Lela Lindsay
1851 Grove Ave
Quincy IL 62301

Cory Lipoff
1050 Julia Ct
Glencoe IL 60022

Cheryl Lulias
1456 W Norwood St
Chicago IL 60660

Owen Macbride
302 Park Ave
Wilmette IL 60091

Ted Martin
35 Park Ln
Park Ridge IL 60068

Jacquelyn Martin-Currie
88 E 89th Pl
Chicago IL 60619

Wayne Massey
27 Muirfield Cir
Wheaton IL 60187

Dino Mazza
1940 Witt Ct
Lombard IL 60148

Michael McDonald
222 Springcreek Dr
Springfield IL 62702

John Michael
2933 W Gregory St
Chicago IL 60625

Michael Monterubio
35 Oak Ln
Lemont IL 60439

Esther Morales
328 S Stewart Ave
Lombard IL 60148

Patrick Nash
66 Indian Hill Rd
Winnetka IL 60093

Jerry Nerad
420 E 4th St
Hinsdale IL 60521

Gerald Niedert
PO Box 28
Wheaton IL 60189

Kimberly Oelze
PO Box 325
Nashville IL 62263

Peter Paleczny
1104 S Broadway Ave
Park Ridge IL 60068

Michael Peck
233 S Wacker Dr Ste 6600
Chicago IL 60606

Valera Peterson
3129 Lochridge Ln
Springfield IL 62704

George Podzamsky
2135 Maple Ave
Berwyn IL 60402

Richard Robb
17 Woodley Rd
Winnetka IL 60093

Joanne Shea
547 S La Grange Rd
La Grange IL 60525

Virginia Sikora
c/o 5420 N. Harlem Ave.
Chicago IL 60656

Deborah Sowa
5528 W Cornelia Ave
Chicago IL 60641

David Speer
410 Cedar St
Winnetka IL 60093

Ellen Straebel
635 Persimmon Dr
Saint Charles IL 60174

Philip Suess
121 W Forest Ave
Wheaton IL 60187

Walter Szczubelek
784 Lindsey Ln
Bolingbrook IL 60440

Yu Tai
10 Hibbard Rd
Northfield IL 60093

Christopher Townsend
1667 Constitution Dr
Glenview IL 60026

H.E. Vogelsinger
1314 Crown Ct
Bloomington IL 61704

David Walsh
None Listed

David Warren
70 W Burton Pl Apt 406
Chicago IL 60610

Bruce Weisenthal
2239 Sheridan Rd
Highland Park IL 60035

William Williams
3055 Saint Michel Ln
Saint Charles IL 60175

John Wilson
626 W Fullerton Pkwy
Chicago IL 60614

Scott Yelvington
1531 N Highland Ave
Arlington Heights IL 60004

Sona Youkhana
480 Edgewood Ln
Winnetka IL 60093

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Just Report It

As the Sun-Times reports this morning, the Chicago Crime Commission has created a statewide hotline for reporting government corruption. (Don’t let the name fool you – Chicagoans apparently care about corruption all over the state). The hotline is (888) EYEONGOV or (888) 393-6646. The Web site is www.888eye [The SJ-R is reporting it, too, but their story isn’t on-line].

The Commission promises to deliver complaints to the appropriate authorities for investigation and possible prosecution. They also say that they will accept anonymous complaints, even though the statewide Inspector Generals and the State Ethics Commission cannot accept anonymous complaints; perhaps the Commission will refer those directly to the appropriate U.S. Attorneys or local State’s Attorneys.

Corruption reporting seems to be a cottage industry these days. Perhaps now would be a good time to review your contact options when you see corruption:

* In August, Jim Burns, one of the Inspectors General at the Secretary of State’s office, announced a website to accept complaints about unethical activities in state government. Burns, a former US Attorney for Northern Illinois, can now accept complaints through the web.

* The Governor’s Inspector General, James Wright, also maintains a webpage, but their procedure is for complainants to download a form, fill it out and fax it back.

* The State Ethics Commission itself is also on-line. The Ethics Commission is the only place to get summaries of all five executive branch Inspector General quarterly reports, which to date are the only reports available to the public about the work of the Inspectors General. These can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Politics, Pirates and Cook County Candidates

Yesterday was the first day for candidates in the 2007 Chicago elections to circulate petitions. It was also International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Coincidence? Certainly, that was enough for one day.

So today, ICPR unveils our new Cook County wing of the Sunshine Database. The new Cook County Database does for the state’s largest county what the Sunshine Database does for state candidates: makes it easier to search for donors, lists top donors and vendors for all candidates, and helps the public understand where campaign funds come from and where they go.

Want to know how your Cook County candidates built their warchests? This page will tell you who gave and how they spent it if you know what office they’re seeking. Go here if you know the candidate’s name. And if you want to search for all money given to Cook County candidates by a particular donor, look here.

Pirate talk aside, we hope this resource helps voters to better navigate campaign records of Cook County candidates. And check back in a few weeks for more additions to the database. As attention moves to municipal elections, the Sunshine Database will grow to include a Chicago wing as well.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why They Give (Donors' Perspectives)

Ever wonder why donors give to candidates? Plenty of news stories focus on the connection between contributions, contributors, and candidates, but what do the donors themselves say? WBEZ's Ben Calhoun got curious and asked a few donors what motivated them to pony up. Listen to his story here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hopeful yet Discontent

Voters around the Midwest, and especially in Illinois, rank concerns with money in politics on par with concerns about schools, taxes, and the economy, according to a new survey. But rather than throw in the towel, voters also say they believe reform is possible and look to candidates to spell out how they will fix the system.

Honesty is the most important value Illinoisans want in state government, the survey found. And voters believe that these policy reforms are the path to re-instilling honesty in Illinois government:

* 73% of Illinois voters agreed (45% strongly, 28% somewhat) with the statement, “Unless we limit the influence of money in government, elected officials will not be able to keep their promises on issues that are important to people like me”

* 86% of Illinois voters believe that “public financing of campaigns which would give each candidate the same amount of money and limit spending by each candidate” would make a difference in making government work better, including 60% who think it would make a big difference and 26% who think it would make somewhat of a difference.

* 87% of Illinois voters believe that “requiring lobbyists to fully report their lobbying activities such as their clients, what issues they are working on, and the money they spend lobbying lawmakers” would make a difference in making government work better, including 61% who think this would make a big difference and 26% who think it would make somewhat of a difference.

*80% of Illinois voters believe that “changing the way legislative district lines are drawn so that it is easier for a candidate to run against current office holders and so new candidates from the community have a chance to win” would make a difference in making government work better, including 40% to think this would make a big difference and 40% who think it would make somewhat of a difference.

The survey was conducted in five Midwestern states, including Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. For details of the survey, including the press release, Illinois data, a survey summary and survey charts (all in pdf format), please visit our website.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Where They Stand: Candidates and Reform

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform now allows voters to learn where candidates stand on important campaign and government reform proposals.

We asked a handful of direct questions about limiting campaign contributions, policing the campaign finance system, giving citizens more information about investigations of ethical conduct in state government, and other important reform proposals. Now, voters can learn what candidates for office want to do to change the system.

Nearly all of the statewide candidates, including the three gubernatorial candidates, answered the questions, but the majority of candidates for the General Assembly dodged the issues.

Despite repeated requests over the past 8 months, only 89 of the 250 men and women running for election to the General Assembly were willing to tell us their positions. Some of those running without any opposition told us they don’t feel any need to tell voters where they stand on these issues. Some incumbents even had the brass to say their record speaks for itself, when many of the issues have not come before the General Assembly for debate or a vote.

With an ex-governor headed to federal prison and federal investigators working overtime on more investigations of state and local governments, voters are questioning the honesty and fairness of government. Every candidate should tell voters how government and elections can and should be improved.

A listing of all responses by candidate is here.

A listing of all candidates by the office they're seeking is here.

A copy of the questionnaire is here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Statement on the Sentencing of former Gov. George Ryan


Today, former Governor George Ryan was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison. The length of time George Ryan spends behind bars matters only to George Ryan and his family. To the rest of us, he will forever be enshrined in the Illinois Government Hall of Shame for betraying the trust of the people of Illinois.

Illinois’ politics didn't have a good reputation before Ryan’s trial, which brought us months of testimony about sweetheart contracts, trips to Jamaica and Las Vegas, cover-ups, deceit, tax evasion and on and on. The Ryan trial put it all at center stage for us to see once again. What is it about Illinois that breeds politicians like Ryan and scores of others who have gone to jail for using the power of public office to enrich themselves and their campaign contributors?

Unfortunately, George Ryan's use of government for personal gain is not a freak occurrence in Illinois. It is precisely why everyday citizens have so little trust in their government and believe big campaign contributors have an unfair advantage.

Instead of debating how many years George Ryan should serve, our elected leaders ought to be debating what needs to be done to restore the public's trust in government. Their answers should include restrictions on how much can be contributed to candidates and a ban on direct contributions by corporations and labor unions. Decisions about state employment and contracts should be based on merit and not decided by contributions and politics. We need reasonable restrictions on how campaigns are financed and a strong regulatory system that will enforce those laws. And we need more disclosure about lobbying practices, as well as increased sunshine on all levels of government.

Voters and candidates can - and will - disagree on important issues, like funding education, selling the tollway and the licensing of new casinos. But all of us want a government that is fair, a government where those issues are debated and decided by honest people. Voters don't think the system is fair now.

As long as candidates can get unlimited campaign cash from special interests, we won't have fairness, and voters know that.

It has been too easy for a government office to become an arm of a campaign. . . where all decisions are made with an eye toward the next election and who provides the money to buy the TV ads and mass mailings. If we're going to sever that connection, we need limits on how campaign funds are collected. Only then will we have a chance at achieving fairness in government -- a place where real people are heard, where all issues get a fair hearing and decisions are made by honest men and women who are not influenced by campaign cash.

The U.S. Attorney and the Federal courts have made it abundantly clear that elected officials have a duty to uphold the public trust and those who don’t will be tried and convicted. Voters in this state have been let down far too many times. It’s long past time for politicians who have talked the talk about changing business as usual, to actually start walking the walk. Illinois citizens deserve fair and honest government. And they have the right to demand it.

At the end of his prison sentence, I hope George Ryan returns to a changed Illinois, one that welcomes honesty in government and merits the trust of Illinoisans.