Friday, August 25, 2006

Blago's Back

Team Blago is back on the air this week with another flight of ads. The buy started Wednesday, August 23rd and runs at least through Monday the 28th. In placement it appears much like the waves of ads they ran in April, May, and June before taking most of July and August off: heavy on news and public affairs with a few prime time spots thrown in for good measure. But these spots are 30 seconds long, and are not bookended. These also seemed intended to prod his positives upward, touting his role in the Amber Alert system, rather than just drive his opponents’ lower.

And there are a lot of them. He’s spending $400K in Chicago for this buy, and it’s only 6 days long – that’s $65K a day on TV spots. For our analysis of ad spending earlier this year, click to Don’t Touch that Dial.

Blago’s the biggest thing going in Chicago TV these days, at least as far as political ads, but while he’s alone on the air right now, he won’t be alone for long. The U.S. Chamber had spots up in support of Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought time in October and November (presumably for both Bean and Duckworth, though the contracts don’t say). The National Republican Campaign Committee matched that buy, and those federal commitments are already approaching $8 million in the Chicago area. Melissa Bean has reserved time for her own campaign in October in addition to the DCCC buy on her behalf.

Already, about as much ad time has been reserved for the General Election as for the Primary Election, and most candidates for state office have yet to jump in. Stations we spoke with expect the Governor's campaign to extend their buy beyond next week.

A book to be published next month raises some interesting questions about all this ad spending. What Sticks is an analysis of several large commercial advertising accounts. It concludes that 37.3% of the $1 billion (with a “b”) spent by 36 of the nation’s biggest advertisers was wasted on campaigns that didn’t achieve what they set out to do.

The book looks at commercial advertising, and political ads are a very different animal. But political ads across the nation are likely to hit $1 billion this year, and Illinois could easily see a fall campaign season as busy as or busier than the Primary. Is it really all worth it?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Who has money and where did they get it?

ICPR has answers.

The “go to” web site for information about who is funding political campaigns in Illinois just got a whole lot better.

The Sunshine Database at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has been updated with new research about major contributors and thousands of new contributions made this year to the statewide candidates, as well as the candidates for legislatives seats and the judiciary.

Here is just some of the new information you’ll find at www.ilcampaign.org:
• The identity of the biggest contributors in the political careers of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and all other top state officeholders and their challengers. The top 13 contributors to Topinka combined don’t even match the $1.7 million given by Blagojevich’s number one career patron.
• Names and background information on the people who have given the largest amounts of money to candidates in this election cycle. Frederick A. Krehbiel, who fell off the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 wealthiest citizens, is at the top of the list of the top individual campaign contributors in Illinois.
• The most generous special interest lobbies – labor unions, law firms, and associations lobbying Springfield for hospitals, doctors, phone companies, beer distributors, horse racetracks, cable television and more.
• The candidates who spent the largest amounts of their personal funds on election campaigns this year. Only three of the top 10 won their primary elections.

The Sunshine Database is a powerful search tool providing information about the most powerful people and special interests in Illinois. It is the only database that has standardized the names of all donors to Illinois candidates, and the only one to code receipts and expenditures by industry.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest organization conducting research and advocating reforms to promote public participation in government, address the role of money in politics and encourage integrity, accountability and transparency in government. The late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon founded ICPR in 1997.

The Sunshine Project is based at the University of Illinois at Springfield and is funded by the Joyce Foundation. Its goal is to increase public awareness and understanding of the role of money in Illinois politics.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Have Wallet, Will Travel

We’re almost done with the new disclosure data; check back in bit for the grand unveiling. But in the meantime, here’s some observations on campaign receipts from out of state during the first six months of this year.

Illinois, as is widely recognized, has the loosest campaign finance regulations in the country. Where most states limit individuals and ban corporations and unions, or rely on targeted limits as between a regulated company and the public official who regulates it, Illinois’ law is anything goes. Since the laws apply to the candidates’ PAC and not to the donors, Illinois candidates can take far more money from donors in other states than those states’ officials can take from those donors.

For instance, Gov. Blagojevich raised $1,139,674 in itemized giving from outside of Illinois. Much of this giving would have been illegal if the donors had tried to give it to their own governors. Donors in California gave $117K, including $25K from ACC Capital Holdings. Donors in California can’t give more than $20K to their own gubernatorial candidates. Wisconsin accounted for $92K in giving, including $39K from Bulk Petroleum, $25K from Edison Liquors (a Wirtz company), and $20K from Miller Brewing. All of that giving would be illegal under Wisconsin law, which bars direct contributions from corporations to candidates. Likewise the $50K from Chess Financial in Ohio, the largest donor from that state, where direct corporate giving is barred. Indiana-based Bernardin Lochmueller and Associates gave the governor $25K. Of that, $7,500 came directly from the corporation, which is $2,500 more than Indiana law would allows corporations to give to its own candidates. The rest came from individuals, in amounts allowed under Indiana law for Indiana candidates.

There’s less to write about in Treasurer Topinka’s reports because she raised far less money: only $195K from outside Illinois. Very little of her giving would have been affected by limits elsewhere, were she running elsewhere. She reports $5K each from Ameren and Anheuser Busch, both Missouri companies, where companies are limited to $1,175 in giving to gubernatorial candidates. But the comparison does reveal something else about her donors – many of them actually gave more to her opponent. Ameren gave Blago $15K, while Anheuser Busch gave him $26K. She reports $5K from Teamsters DRIVE, headquartered in DC; Blago got $55K from the same group. She got $4.5K from Barnes and Thornburg, an Indiana company that also gave Blago $5K.

Donors from out of state are bound by the laws of Illinois, not the laws of their own states. It’s perfectly legal for them to give as much here as they want to, since our laws allow that. Why they would want to give here is, of course, another matter.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Legislators at Risk?

Elections serve as a check on power – public representatives have to face the voters from time to time, and the public gets to decide if they want to retain the official or not. Today’s Primary Election in Connecticut has the nation wondering if Sen. Joe Lieberman will secure nomination to another term. But how often to voters actually reject a sitting office holder? ICPR looked at Primary Elections in Illinois and found the answer: Not often.

Indeed, most often, sitting legislators seeking nomination for another term are not opposed in the primary. Our report on Primary Elections, All in the Family, found that even when they are opposed, they win more than three times out of four. Appointed legislators do even better, winning every time since 1998.

Perhaps these results aren’t so surprising. These are primary elections, after all, and the voters are all of the same party as the incumbent. But when we looked at General Elections, as we did last Winter, we found the same results: sitting legislators are rarely challenged, and win most of the time when they are challenged.

This week we release the second part of our study of election competitiveness. Look for the final part, looking at how often sitting legislators are turned away from another term, after the November general.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Big Money

We're still refining the data from the recently-filed campaign disclosure reports so that we can post it to the Sunshine Database -- check back in a week to 10 days for that -- but in the meantime, I looked at how reliant statewide candidates are on large contributors. Donors who give more than $10,000 to a candidate represent a tiny fraction of all donors, but can account for a huge chunk of that candidate's total receipts. In 2002, most of the candidates for statewide office got most of their funds from these large donors (read our report, Attack of the Gigantic Campaign Contributors, for the figures from the last election).

We're not done standardizing the names of the donors, so it's possible, likely even, that I'm missing some cash here, but I took a preliminary look at how much money comes from large donors this time around. Remember, checks of this size are illegal in most states, and in most instances in all federal elections. How did our statewides do?

Gov. Blagojevich reported $6.7 million in receipts in the first half of the year. Of that, at least $4.2 million came from large donors -- 64% of his total take. About a fifth of his haul came from donors who gave more than $100,000. His Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, reported $3.4 million in receipts, of which 42% came from large donors. Green candidate Rich Whitney, if you're wondering, reported $1,757.40 in total receipts, and none if it, obviously, came from large donors.

For AG, Lisa Madigan reported $1.3 million in receipts. Just oover half (54%) came from large donors. Challenger Stu Umholtz reported $108,000 in receipts, none of which came from large donors. Secretary of State Jesse White shows $581,000 n receipts, 36% from large donors, and Dan Rutherford reports $356,000 in receipts, 7% from large donors. The Green candidates did not report committees.

Campaign disclosure reports can be read in several ways: to see who's trying to curry favor with whom, who draws support from where, who knows people who give them money. An over-reliance on a small group of donors can be troubling because it calls into question the candidate's ability to put voters' interests ahead of their contributors'.

Report It Now (dot net)

Jim Burns, one of the Inspectors General at the Secretary of State’s office, has launched 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 webpage. The homepage is here and the on-line complaint form is here:

While Burns works in the Secretary of State’s office, state law allows him to accept complaints about activities under any of the statewides for referral to the appropriate IG or to the Ethics Commission.

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. To my knowledge, the other IGs don't have webpages.

While we’re at it, the Executive 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.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Injudicious Fundraising

The 2004 Supreme Court race in far southern Illinois smashed state and federal records for fundraising. The early signs suggest that the 2006 Appellate Court race in the same District may follow the same path. While another $10 million race is unlikely, the same financial interests are lining up behind the candidates, and a new Appellate Court record may be set.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests, the two Appellate Court candidates have already raised more money between them than the two Supreme Court candidates did at this point in 2004. That’s partly because one candidate faced a primary. But it also shows that financial interests are paying attention to this race.

Indeed, many of the same donors who gave to candidates in 2004 are giving again in 2006. Bruce Stewart, the Democratic nominee for Appellate Court, reports $49,000 in receipts from donors to Gordon Maag, the losing nominee for Supreme Court. Republican candidate Stephen McGlynn reports $90,000 from donors to Lloyd Karmeier, who won the 2004 Supreme Court contest.

For Democratic candidates, support comes largely from personal injury plaintiffs and labor unions. Republicans rely on personal injury defendants and insurance companies. Both parties’ candidates have come to rely on different sides of the same issue for the bulk of their funding, even though that issue has no bearing on the majority of cases the Court hears and decides.

This pattern has significant implications for the administration of justice. You could be a brilliant contracts lawyer, an expert at wills, trusts and probate, or a skilled family attorney, but if you hope to be a judge, you’d better have good relationships with personal injury interests. Even more particularly, if you’re a Democrat, you’d better get along with the plaintiffs side; if a Republican, the defendants. That’s where the money comes from.

No matter how big the spending in the race gets, litigants with interests before the court control the purse strings. And the more money that flows into these races, the harder it will be to break the cycle. It’s time to give judicial candidates a way to opt out of the fundraising rat race, and the Supreme Court Public Financing bill (SB 1955) is a start.