Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year, New Rules, New Server

A couple of thoughts on the coming of the new year.

First, as many of you know, ICPR has been working hard to pass HB 1, a bill to address pay-to-play in state contracting. The bill has 46 sponsors, a super majority of both caucuses, and yet it's been locked down in Senate Rules since last April. December 31 will mark the 250th day that HB 1 has been held hostage, and so we invite all of you to show you outrage at this farcical abuse of legislative power by donning silly hats, blowing noisemakers, and counting down the seconds to January 1, which will be the 251st day. Maybe that will get the bill moved to committee when the legislature reconvenes on January 2.

Second, beginning on January 1, political committees active in the February 5th Primary Election will have two days to report donations of more than $500. In previous years, these A-1 reports didn't kick in until later in the year. Under the old rules, we'd expect A-1s to start arriving in mid-January; a pre-election report would arrive in late January detailing all receipts since the start of the year, and in-between, the D-2 Semi Annual reports would arrive with details of fundraising in the second half of 2007. With the earlier primary date, that all changes; there will be no Pre-election report for the primary, and the A-1s start as soon as 2008 does. So not only do we have Special Session to look forward to on January 2, but, as the first business day of the year, the first batch of A-1 reports should also arrive.

Finally, we know many of you occasionally have had difficulty finding our website or sending us e-mails. We share your frustration. Our aging server limped through the fall, but neither technological know-how nor duct tape could keep it going. In the new year, we'll be moving the site and the e-mail to a new system, which should, fingers crossed, fix all the problems.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Chris Kelly's Campaign Contributions

Most of the search for meaning in yesterday's Chris Kelly indictment on income tax evasion charges has rightly focused on his close personal relationship with Gov. Blagojevich. As we noted in yesterday's post, the indictment calls into question how the governor vetted advisors; who was bending his ear is worth examining, and the facts alleged in the indictment, if true, suggest that Kelly should not have been a Special Government Agent on behalf of the governor in internal meetings at the Gaming Board.

As a sidebar, the indictment also appears to be a jumping off point to revisit Kelly's campaign donations to the governor. For consistency's sake, here's our accounting of campaign donations from Kelly and associated entities, based on reports filed with the State Board of Elections and included in the Sunshine Database.

The governor's campaign fund reports $688,500 in donations and loans from Kelly affiliates These include $337K from CGK Consulting, including $250K in loans; $125K from BCI Roofing; $109K from Castle Construction, including a $2,500 donation from Anthony Blum, an employee; and $117,500 from MBB, including $100K in loans. All of those were reported in 2000-2002. In 2004, Blagojevich's campaign fund repaid the $250K loan from CGK, and in 2005, they repaid the $100K loan from MBB. Net of those loan repayments, Friends of Blagojevich reports $338.5K in receipts from entities affiliated with Chris Kelly.

Friends of Blagojevich also hired Castle Construction to do work on the Blagojevich campaign headquarters at a cost of $236K during the 2004-2005 winter. But that was payment for actual services, not debt service.

Kelly's affiliates haven't given much lately. The great bulk of their giving was to Blagojevich, and all of that was during 2000-2002. Other top recipients include Chicago Alderman Patrick Levar (including $9,540 directly and $5,600 to the 45th Ward Regular Democrats), Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch ($11K, all in 2006 and 2007), and former Attorney General candidate John Schmidt. Smaller receipts were reported by legislators ($3K by Lee Daniels, $500 each by Jay Hoffman and Susan Mendoza), Chicago Aldermen ($9K by Ed Burke or the 14th Ward Ad Book Committee, $3K by Danny Solis, $2K by William JP Banks, $1.5K by Carrie Austin, $500 by Patrick O'Connor) and other assorted officials ($2K by Tom Dart, $1.5K by Richard M Daley, $1K by Dan Hynes) and some others.

That John Schmidt contribution was made in December, 1997; it was the second reported donation from a Kelly-affiliate. The first reported contribution by a Kelly-affiliate was a $400 donation from BCI in May, 1997 to then-Secretary of State George Ryan.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chris Kelly Indicted

News stories are cropping up faster than we can track them. As context, below are comments from an interview between Gov. Blagojevich and the Daily Southtown Editorial Board in Ocober, 2006, and statements from Kelly's Statement of Economic Interest.

The interview, published October 13, 2006, took place the same week that Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko was indicted for taking kickbacks from firms seeking state business. At one point in the interview, the Editorial Board asked the governor his thoughts about Chris Kelly. Here's the exchange:


In Blagojevich's words

October 13, 2006

Excerpts from Gov. Rod Blagojevich's interview with the Daily Southtown editorial board Thursday afternoon:

[snip]

Q: Are you confident that Chris Kelly is not going to be indicted?

A: Yeah. Yes. They're two different people, by the way, and it's a different relationship. Chris and I are much closer. Chris is the head of my political campaign. That's someone I talk to a lot more frequently. I'm confident, yes.

Q: What happened five months ago that you had this final, last conversation with Tony Rezko? What was the last conversation and why was it the last one?

A: It was four or five months ago; could have been at an event somewhere that I saw him. It was fine.

Q: Were you starting to distance yourself from him at that point?

A: Not all. I think I need to explain the extent of the relationship. He's not an exclusive friend of mine. He was a supporter of mine. He doesn't have a formal position in our campaign. He never did. He made some recommendations during the transition and during the first year we were building an administration, but for the most part, that's it. I think some of the talk that he's this big adviser is frankly overblown.

It's different with Chris. I'd be shocked. I'm very confident in Chris.

[snip]


To be fair, Chris Kelly today was not indicted on public corruption charges. The feds allege that Kelly failed to report personal income from gambling, along with personal subsidies from his businesses to cover gambling debts.

Perhaps the governor did not know the extent of Kelly's gambling. After all, why would the governor appoint someone who gambled to this extent as his Special Government Agent to the Illinois Gaming Board, to represent the governor on gambling issues?

The indictment also brings up Kelly's Statement of Economic Interest for 2004 and 2005, filed when he served as Blagojevich's Special Government Agent. Asked to list "the name of any entity from which a gift or gifts … valued singly or in the aggregate in excess of $500, was received during the previous year." Kelly's answer in 2004 and again in 2005 (the year before Rezko was indicted) was, in its entirety: "gifts of personal friendship received by person filing this statement [ie, Kelly] from Tony Rezko and Rod Blagojevich (person filing this statement provides similar gifts of personal friendship to such individuals)." No other gift givers are mentioned; for 2003 and 2004, this particular gift exchange was limited to three people, two of whom have now been indicted.

The governor has some explaining to do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Board of Elections Assesses $25K Fine Against Todd Stroger PAC

Can paying $25K save $100K?

The State Board of Elections met Monday to consider the fine to be assessed against Friends of Todd H. Stroger for President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. [See previous post here] The Stroger PAC had failed to report 78 contributions, totaling more than a quarter million dollars, during the 2006 General Election as required on A-1 forms. The donations were not reported until 3 months after voting was over, when the PAC filed their semi annual report. After failing to agree on a penalty at the October meeting, the Board of Election continued the matter to the November meeting.

Long story short, the Board voted 5-1 to assess a penalty of $25.5K for the PAC's failure to timely report $255K in A-1 contributions. The five votes came from Republicans Jesse Smart, Bryan Schnieder, and Robert Walters and Democrats John Keith and Wanda Rednour. Democrat (and Chairman) Albert Porter voted no, while Republican Patrick Brady and Democrat William McGuffage abstained. The penalty was, in our estimation, lower than it should have been, and shows how the Board is determined to stick with a faulty formula for A-1 fines.

But to understand the big picture, you'll need a few more details. Now, beware: thar be inside baseball ahead.

Since the October meeting, two developments are worth noting. First, the Stroger PAC filed an argument with the Board that the failure to assess the fines in October meant that the Board could not assess a fine now. It's hard to tell if they seriously mean that the PAC was off the hook or if they merely intended to press the Board to wrap this up. And second, former Stroger opponent Tony Peraica filed a complaint alleging that another Todd Stroger PAC had a previous A-1 violation, making this his second, not first, violation. That distinction is important because first violations are, by Board practice, assessed penalties at 10% of the unreported donations, while second violations are fined at 50%. If the Board had been persuaded that the Stroger for President PAC was a successor to Friends for Todd Stroger, the Board's formula could have indicated a fine of $125K. This argument is just as novel as Stroger's claim that the Board had missed its chance to levy a fine; the successor committee rule has not previously been used to determine A-1 fines, and Peraica may have been asserting it more for show than for real. But it's apparent from these two developments that both sides were ratcheting up the rhetoric for Monday's meeting.

It was against that backdrop that the Board considered the penalty. The Stroger fund failed to timely disclose more donations than any previous campaign (that we can find), both in the number and the total value of donations. The PAC acknowledged creating a clumsy and time-consuming apparatus to screen donations, taking far longer than other campaigns to review donations. Apparently, no donations were returned as a result of this vetting process. But some members of the Board appeared reluctant to assess a penalty as large as $25K, urging a reduced fine only on transfers from other PACs (which, they said, should not have taken so long to vet). The Board found itself in its classic box, splitting along partisan lines and unable to take action. But the logjam broke under the added pressure from Stroger to wrap up the matter, and from Peraica to claim that the fine should be quintupled (from 10% to 50%), not to mention all the reporters buzzing around (see, for instance, yesterday's Sun-Times story and today's Trib editorial ).

The Board ultimately levied one of the larger fines they've ever handed out. Still, the bigger problem remains: the Board's slavish adherence to a formula that automatically assesses penalties at 10% for first violations. Statute clearly urges the Board to consider individual circumstances, including:

(1) whether in the Board's opinion the violation was committed inadvertently, negligently, knowingly, or intentionally
(2) the number of days the contribution was reported late; and
(3) past violations of [the Election Code].

In our view, based on this assessment, the Stroger PAC deserved a penalty of far more than 10%. As a general rule, the Board's decision affirms that campaigns who have never paid an A-1 violation in the past can rest assured that they can hide donations they don't want to disclose so long as they're willing to pay 10% as a penalty. On that score, our disclosure system, and the public's right to know, is compromised.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fighting corruption: The big picture

Yesterday's blog noted ways that individual people can fight corruption. Today, we're happily surprised by the timing of an editorial in the Kankakee Daily Journal, which offers a helpful catalog of ways that the State of Illinois can act.

Their editorial, which notes Gov. Ryan as the latest in a too-long line of incarcerated ex-governors (and which asks, "is Gov. Rod Blagojevich next?") offers a thought-provoking list of ideas that would serve as a good starting point for any legislator wondering what to file for next Spring. Passing HB 1 is only a starting point, the Daily Journal notes. After that's accomplished (or, I assume, sooner, if HB 1 remains bottled up), they offer these ideas:

* Donations from gambling interests ought to be barred.

* Unused campaign donations ought to be given back at the end of a campaign, or given to charity. No more stockpiling of money.

* Donations given to one campaign should not be shifted to another. Our system now runs too much money through the Big Four (House and Senate leaders of both parties). The result is a concentration of power and a stranglehold of ideas. We're seeing it now.

* Donations from outside political districts ought to be restricted. Chicago cash should not be poured into downstate.


ICPR has supported some of these ideas before, including oversight of giving by regulated industries, and limits on transfers. Others may be, in our opinion, unnecessary to get at the root of the problem. Our positions aside, we applaud the Daily Journal for offering their thoughts and encourage all Illinoisans to join the discussion.

Individual people can do a lot to stamp out corruption. But the General Assembly can do more, too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fighting corruption, one person at a time

The news recently has been full of stories reminding us of public corruption. One HDO organizer sentenced to 15 months in jail for perjury; another who "forgot" to mention 16 of his 22 previous criminal convictions when applying for a Chicago city job (who nonetheless was hired); and, of course, George Ryan's arrival at the federal prison in Oxford, Wisconsin.

Today's Christian Science Monitor has a timely editorial on what ordinary citizens can do to stamp out government corruption. After cataloging the costs of corruption (ranging from the loss of services and public trust to dampened job creation), the paper concludes with the cures. Greater transparency and oversight, for sure. But they also note that "individuals can remember their role. Fellow office workers need to speak up when they suspect wrongdoing." And voters need to remember that they have the power to hand out "pick slip(s) come election time."

And if you're looking for a place to start, why not head over to the Comptroller's fantastic new Open Book? They report 172,000 visitors in the first three weeks, so it's not like you'd be alone…

Monday, November 12, 2007

Admitting Ill. has a gambling problem

The rule used to be, if it’s late May, there must be a gambling bill afloat. This year’s session is long past that deadline, but the maxim holds true: when the going gets tough, gambling gets trotted out as a budget savior. But gambling is far more than a revenue source, as ICPR Director Cindi Canary points out in today’s Crain’s Chicago Business (subscription may be req'd). If the state is serious about looking to gambling for tens of millions of new annual revenue, then it’s time to get serious about how gambling is regulated in Illinois.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ryan Appeal Denied

The US Court of Appeals has denied Gov. George Ryan's effort to gain a new trial on corruption charges, finding that "In the end, the evidence supporting the jury's verdict was overwhelming." And what was that overwhelming evidence?

• That Ryan personally participated in schemes to rig contracts for vehicle stickers and computer equipment, and leases for state offices in Joliet, Chicago, and South Holland;
• That Ryan lied to investigators about bribes paid in the form of vacations to Jamaica, and his role in quashing the original investigation into the sale of drivers licenses that contributed to the deaths of the Willis kids
• That Ryan evaded paying income taxes on his and his children's illegal payments in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998

Ryan's indictment in December, 2003 and his conviction in 2006 laid bare a broad scope of problems that continue to fester in Illinois politics. At the time of his conviction, ICPR issued a statement about "look[ing] beyond the Ryan verdict." We still think these areas deserve attention. Rather than focus on what went wrong in the past, let's figure out what to do in the future so that it doesn't happen again.

* Tackle Pay-to-Play: Illinois still has no rules limiting how much state contractors can give to the campaign funds of the public officials who negotiate and sign their contracts.

* Adopt contribution limits: Illinois should join with nearly all other states and the federal government in adopting campaign contribution limits and banning direct contributions from unions and corporations.

* Revise lobbyist regulations: Criminal shakedowns were cloaked with legitimacy by pretending the payoffs were lobbying fees. The public has a right to know more about what lobbyists are doing.

* Improve the 2003 Ethics Act: The Act, adopted before the indictment and trial, was a terrific starting point, but time has shown its weaknesses, particularly in regard to oversight of Inspectors General and the Ethics Commissions.

George Ryan has been held responsible for his actions and, it appears, will soon head to jail. Perhaps the sight of a governor behind bars will motivate Illinois' current crop of elected officials to take action before it happens again.

Dependents as Donors and Dependent Candidates

Our friends at the Wisconsin Democracy Project recently unveiled findings that students had contributed $86K to candidates in Wisconsin since 2002. Many of those gave only after their parents had maxed out their legal contributions to the same candidates, under Wisconsin's system of contribution limits. It appears that some of these students may be funneling donations from their parents to get around the limits, which is illegal.

Yesterday's Washington Post had a story on the same thing, in federal elections. They found a two-year-old Chicago child who gave the maximum $2,300 donation to a candidate, at the same time that her older brother and sister, ages 9 and 13, also gave $2,300 each to the same candidate, along with two of their 13-year-old cousins. The two-year-old's parents had already maxed out their giving. The WaPo story notes that these donations "almost certainly run afoul of campaign finance regulations."

We rarely see donations from children in Illinois, in part because we have no limits. If someone really wants to give large amounts of cash to a candidate, there's no legal impediment to doing so, and no reason to break the law by parceling the money out among a bunch of straw donors.

But the problem that the Post and WDC found isn't so much that some parents use their kids to sneak around the limits, it's that candidates can become too reliant for money from a tiny number of donors. And we have that problem in Illinois in spades.

Here in Illinois, most candidates for statewide office get most of their money from donors who pony up $10,000 or more, and those donors account for a teeny tiny fraction of all Illinoisans -- less than one-tenth of one -percent.

Last night at the opening game of the World Series, Boston crushed the Rockies. Fenway's a small park, with a seating capacity of only about 36,000. And yet, it's roughly analogous to how campaign finance works. There are 13 million people in Illinois, and fewer than 600 account for most of the money raised. There are more players on a baseball field, relative to the number of fans in the stands, than there are large donors and residents in the state. At Fenway, it's as if only two fielders matter, out of all the people at the game. And those large donors exercise a vastly disproportionate influence on the political agenda elected officials follow. Fans are there to watch baseball games, but voters expect more from their government.

Limits may be imperfect, but they are a tool to address the problem of big donors' disproportionate influence on public policy. The difference between Illinois and other states isn't so much that candidates become dependent on a small group of donors -- it's that other states have tools to address the problem, while Illinois does not.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Open Book

Kudos to Comptroller Dan Hynes, who yesterday unveiled Open Book, a new website to link campaign contributions and state contracts. The site combines the Comptroller's contract database and the State Board of Elections' campaign disclosure files, so that visitors can enter a name into one search box and find matches in both databases. What's more, Open Book searches campaign donations through both the donor field and the employer field, greatly reducing the number of steps involved.

Go play with it and see how easy it is.

The announcement got a great reception, with cheers from ICPR, the Better Government Association and the Sunshine Project, and stories in AP, the Tribune, GateHouse, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Champaign Urbana News-Gazette, and the Small Newspaper Group.

Plus, the Tribune and the Bloomington Pantagraph both renewed their calls for HB 1 this morning. Their timing is great.

Now what kind of timing does the state Senate have?

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Pat Quinn Really Thinks of Pay-to-Play

As if his statement to the press yesterday wasn’t enough, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is leaving no doubt about his concerns with pay-to-play state contracting. Check out the animation and soundtrack added to his homepage:

http://www.standingupforillinois.org/

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who's Going to Give the Governor $3-5 Million?

A major political organization is holding its big annual fundraiser in Chicago tonight. Sponsors are paying up to $20,000 for the title "honorary co-chair." And no, it's not our event.

It's Gov. Blagojevich's, and if past fundraisers are any indication, he's expected to pull in $3-5 million. That's more than most previous governors have raised at a single event, but it's par for the course for Blagojevich, who has raised more than anyone else in the history of Illinois politics.

The size of his fundraising is noteworthy by itself, but who gives has also raised eyebrows, and concerns. As Deanna Bellandi reports for the AP today, "Contributors have gained spots on state boards and commissions; donors have received state business; lobbyists who are friends and associates of the governor have won lucrative contracts for their clients; and his top fundraisers have had a say in government policy and appointments."

Friends of Blagojevich won't have to report receipts from the event until next January, so we won't know for sure who gave or if any of today's haul looks improper. But the history of donors getting state contracts, coupled with demonstrated illegalities in the Operation Safe Road and Hired Truck trials, suggest that Illinois needs more regulation over some campaign contributions than are now on the books.

HB 1, the pay to play ban, certainly deserves public debate and a floor vote. It's been tied up in the Senate for 176 days now without any sign that Senate leadership is prepared to address the problem. Lt Gov. Pat Quinn today calls for action on HB 1, and Comptroller Dan Hynes, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, and Secretary of State Jesse White have all declared their public support for the measure; to date, the governor is the only fence sitter.

Thonight's fundraiser is being held while the legislature is considering a multi-billion dollar capital construction program. Before another fundraising cycle slips by, sponsors of this bill, whose number includes fully three-fourths of the members of the Senate, should find a way to move this bill.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Illinois Campaign Disclosure Ranked #1, and #29, in the Country

A new national survey of state campaign finance disclosure systems ranks Illinois tops in the nation for its electronic filing program,. The same survey, by the Campaign Disclosure Project of the California Voter Foundation based at UCLA, gave Illinois low marks for the campaign disclosure law, ranking us 29th in the nation. The report is here; press coverage is here and here.

The findings mirror similar reports in 2005 and 2003, that the State Board of Elections does a fantastic job of letting the public know what's in the disclosure reports, but that the underlying disclosure law leave a lot to be desired. We still have no rules on the size and source of donations, allowing corporations, unions, and associations to give unlimited amounts; allowing unrestricted transfers between committees, even tolerating donations from regulated industries and state contractors. All of these are regulated in nearly every other state in the country. Legislation to address these failings, including HB 1 and HB 3497 languish in the Senate and House respectively.

The report is right to praise what we do well, but it also serves as another reminder of the work we have yet to do.

Update: State Board of Elections Postpones Decision on Stroger's A-1 Fines

The State Board of Elections met Monday to consider fines to be assessed against the Friends of Todd H. Stroger for President committee, as we mentioned last week. Staff at the Board found that the committee failed to disclose an astounding 78 donations totaling over $250K in donations received during the A-1 period in the 2006 General Election. Despite the large number of undisclosed donations, staff recommended a fine of just 10%, the lowest level allowed by statute.

The matter came before the Board on Monday and, long story short, the Board took no action, deferring to their next meeting. They were unable to find five votes in favor of a penalty. Member Patrick Brady recused himself for an undisclosed conflict. A motion to accept the hearing officer's recommendation and impose a $25K fine failed with four votes in favor (John Keith, Vice Chairman Bryan Schneider, Jesse Smart, and Robert Walters), three opposed (Bill McGuffage, Chairman Albert Porter, and Wanda Rednour), and Brady abstaining. A second motion to impose a fine only on the transfers and not the direct contributions (the resulting tally would have levied a fine of $14,200) also failed, with Keith, McGuffage, Porter, and Rednour voting yes, Schneider, Smart and Walters voting no, and Brady abstaining. The matter was continued to the November 19 meeting, which will be held in Springfield.

To put the Stroger committee's violations in perspective is difficult. The Board does not keep records of violations that facilitate historical comparisons. But in our research, we haven't found any committee that has failed to disclose more than a dozen donations in a single election. No one had failed to disclose more than $100K in a single election. The Stroger committee's failures to disclose dwarf all previous violations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Discounts for law-breaking politicians

As the state struggles with a massive budget crisis, as the CTA crumbles for lack of funds and schools are forced to borrow money the state should have appropriated by now, name one state agency that regularly tries to cut the penalties they assess law breakers? Ladies and gentlemen, we give you: the State Board of Elections.

Funny, that in this case the law breakers are all political committees.

Late last week, the Sun-Times reported that a campaign fund for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, facing a quarter million dollars in fines, is likely to see that penalty amount reduced by 90%. It's frustrating enough that the State Board of Elections is, alone among cash-strapped state agencies, determined to slash fees and penalties for violations of state laws to the lowest possible legal amount. Even more galling is Stroger for President's argument for an even lower penalty.

Stroger for President's penalties result from the failure to report donations received in the 30 days before the 2006 General Election. The law requires that PACs report donations of more than $500 received within the last 30 days before an election within two business days. These A-1 reports let voters know where candidates are drawing financial support in the final days before voting, when candidates are most eager to raise cash, and donors are best positioned to extract promises in return.

The staff at the State Board of Elections determined that Friends of Todd H Stroger for President failed to report an astounding 78 donations -- totaling more than a quarter of a million dollars -- as required by law. The penalty for failing to report those donations can be, by statute, as much as 100%. Statute outlines these criteria for the Board to consider when setting the fine:

(1) whether in the Board's opinion the violation was committed inadvertently, negligently, knowingly, or intentionally
(2) the number of days the contribution was reported late; and
(3) past violations of [the Election Code].


In practice, however, the Board has almost always assessed penalties of 10% of the unreported donation -- the bare minimum allowed by law. No matter whether the violation as intentional, no matter how late the contributions were reported; indeed, without any apparent regard for the criteria set in statute. The Board’s consistent practice to reduce the penalty to the smallest possible amount runs counter the evaluation that statute directs the Board to undertake.

Now comes the Stroger for President committee, arguing that even 10% is too high. We cannot fault their attorney for making an argument in defense of his client; that’s the lawyer’s job, after all, and who wouldn't want to pay less for breaking the law? But we can fault the Board for encouraging PACs to discount the seriousness of this violation. Setting penalties at the very lowest end of the statutory range regardless of the reasons for the violation has now encouraged PACs to try to jawbone them down even lower. The Board's pattern of routinely giving political committees breaks no other agency would give to the general public fosters the sense that these public disclosure rules don't really matter.

Obviously, we think the Board should reject Stroger for President’s arguments and assess penalties on the entire amount of non-reported contributions. The Board should also rethink their practice of automatically cutting penalties to 10%. Telling candidates that a violation will cost only 10% may encourage willful hiding of potentially troublesome donations. If disclosure means anything, if the public's right to know is to have any meaning in the context of an election, the Board needs to set real standards and assess penalties commensurate with the scope of the violation.

Monday, October 08, 2007

ICPR to Celebrate 10-Year Anniversary

COMPTROLLER DAN HYNES AND ILLINOIS ISSUES MAGAZINE EDITOR NAMED RECIPIENTS OF 2007 PAUL SIMON PUBLIC SERVICE AWARDS

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) announced Monday that the 2007 Paul Simon Public Service Awards will be presented to Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes and to Peggy Boyer Long, executive editor of Illinois Issues magazine.
The awards will be presented at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of ICPR by the late Sen. Simon. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, 455 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Hynes, now in his third term as State Comptroller, will be recognized for his leadership in the effort to enact legislation to limit opportunities for pay-to-play in state contracting, to reform state laws regulating lobbyists and to create a public financing system for elections to the state’s highest courts. In addition, Hynes issued an executive order prohibiting contractors with his office from contributing to his campaign fund.
“Because he knows how important it is that the public be able to trust its elected leaders and because he understands that the appearance of impropriety is very damaging to our political system, Comptroller Hynes has been willing to go the extra mile for reforms of Illinois election campaigns and the operation of state government,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of ICPR. “We are pleased to be able to recognize his commitment to the cause.”
Long, a veteran broadcast and print journalist, will be recognized for her many contributions to the public’s understanding of the operation of state government and the issues debated in the General Assembly. During her 13 years of leadership at Illinois Issues, the magazine has provided in-depth coverage of the State Capitol and has been a reliable source of information about the impact of legislation on all areas of the state. From 1975 to 1978 and from 1989 to 1991, she was State Capitol bureau chief for public radio in Springfield. At the end of the year, Long will retire from her positions as executive editor of the magazine and as director of Center Publications, Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
“Because Illinois seems to be fertile ground for scandals and scoundrels, the political beat here is a dream job for many journalists,” Canary said. “For more than three decades, Peggy Boyer Long has provided insightful reporting and commentary on the political and policy debates at the State Capitol and has been a mentor to many aspiring reporters. Because Paul Simon had a hand in the founding of Illinois Issues more than 30 years ago, it is fitting that this award in his name is going to the person whose hard work in the face of lean budgets and upheaval in the magazine industry has maintained the magazine’s high quality.”
This is the third year that ICPR has presented the Paul Simon Public Service Awards. The first awards in 2005 were presented to two close associates of former Sen. Simon -- former Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch and former congressman and federal appeals court judge Abner Mikva.
The 2006 awards were presented to Mike Lawrence, who is Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University; Newton Minow, a partner at Sidley and Austin and former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; and to the editorial board of The Peoria Journal Star.
“During his years on Capitol Hill and in Springfield, Paul Simon was always at the forefront of government and political reform efforts,” said Canary. “Clearly, he saw the need for reform, but he also understood the need to educate voters and provide the research to back up the call for reform. That led to his decision in 1997 to create ICPR, a statewide non-profit without allegiance to any political party.
“He helped bring many organizations to the table to work together on many key reforms,” she said. “Because there have been so many political scandals in Illinois and reform ideas often are strongly resisted in the Capitol, it is important to remember that significant changes have occurred during the past decade.
“Campaign contribution information is more complete and easy for citizens to access on the internet,” Canary noted. “State employees now have ethics training, and a system of investigators and ethics commissions is in place to pursue allegations of questionable behavior. But there obviously is much more to do to clean-up state government in Illinois.”
ICPR led the effort to pass sweeping ethics reform legislation in 2003. Its work includes monitoring enforcement of the new ethics law; researching and reporting of campaign contribution and expenditure trends; encouraging informed and issue-oriented debate in judicial elections; developing non-partisan, state-sponsored voter education guides; advocating increased and improved coverage of election campaigns by broadcasters; and seeking passage of legislation to limit the influence of large contributors to political campaigns.
For more information about the 10th anniversary event on November 7, visit the ICPR website (www.ilcampaign.org).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Willing and ABLE

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a piece on financial support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign from a group called Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs, an organization of African-American business leaders.

The story focused on financial support to his U.S. Senate and Presidential campaigns. Some of those donors gave to Obama previously, when he ran for the U.S. House in 2000 and even to his State Senate campaigns. That support wasn't nearly as large or consistent, but it does give a fuller picture of the longstanding ties between Obama and these supporters.

The attached spreadsheet details donations from members of ABLE to Obama's earlier campaigns. ABLE donors account for about 4% of Obama's fundraising for his state Senate and U.S. House races.

We would have posted this earlier, but our website, if you've been checking, has been up and down. We're moving to a new Internet connection, and our domain name is as we speak switching to a new URL. That process should be done soon; in the meantime, our site may be hard to find, and our e-mails will bounce. All of which goes to show, computers are great when the work. When they don't work, they're just expensive paperweights, or very valuable Frisbees. We appreciate your patience. If the link for the attached file isn't working, please get in touch with us and we'll e-mail it out.
ObamaABLE.xls

Monday, October 01, 2007

Note to Legislature: Legislation, not Personality Conflict, is the Reason for Sessions

The legislature returns to the state capitol today to address gubernatorial vetoes and emergency legislation in their annual "veto session." Of course, they're still in regular session, and 16 special sessions, so there's no telling what they might do.

2007 has set too many dismal records to count. In addition to the obvious "longest overtime session," this may also be dubbed the least productive session in recent memory. Rather than argue over the substance of legislation (which, whether the argument takes place among rank and file members or among the four tops is usually what long sessions are for), this one is instead focused on personality conflicts and power trips.

The first year of the four-year statewide term finds the state's three most powerful Democrats locked in a battle to determine which one of them is really in charge. Leaders do this sometimes, but the check on this bad behavior is usually the other 173 legislators who serve as ballast, pulling their leaders back to more rational positions.

But not this year. While the leaders squabble, the other 173 have been just witnesses. Why? The Kankakee Daily Journal editorialized over the weekend with a list of reasons. And their main focus? The concentration of campaign funds in the Four Tops.

"The leaders get to decide if you will have an opponent who's well-funded -- or none at all. To be competitive in a "targeted" race means $500,000 for a House seat and $1 million for a Senate seat."

Their fixes include a host of campaign finance reforms to end the concentration of money at the top: stop transfers, bar stockpiling of money, eliminate giving by gambling interests. Lastly? Limit donations, to force members to broaden their financial base and reach out to small donors.

The Daily Journal's suggestions are well worth considering. Especially this week. If nothing else comes of this year's session, perhaps we can at least get a sense of the problems we face, and why it can be so hard to keep the leaders' focus where it should be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How to Speak to the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission has released the official schedule for their hearings in Chicago on media regulation (click here for the pdf, or here for the Word document.) The hearings, open to the public and with most of the time set aside for comment from TV viewers, will be held at the Operation Push National Headquarters 930 East 50th Street, at the corner of South Drexel Blvd. They'll be using Dr. King’s Workshop, a 1,200-seat venue, so that they're ready for big crowds.

This is the public's chance to speak directly to the five commissioners at the FCC about how broadcasters should be regulated. Back in 2003, the FCC adopted new rules on media ownership that would have allowed media conglomerates to own a larger share of the market, greatly increasing consolidation and reducing minority input at the management level. The public outcry was fast and furious. Over 1 million people sent letters to the FCC, and the U.S. Senate publically rebuked the Commission for its stance. A court challenge forced the FCC to start over from scratch.

That's why they're coming to Chicago for the 5th of 6 planned hearings around the country.

There are many perspectives on what's wrong with broadcasting today. ICPR has been tracking coverage of local government, campaigns, and elections for years. We've found that TV news broadcasts throughout the Chicago media market spend more time touting themselves and their upcoming stories than they do covering local campaigns, government and elections. Ensuring that these stations remember their obligation to local viewers is an essential role for the FCC.

TV viewers from around the Midwest now have a rare opportunity to speak directly to the five Commissioners who will decide how to ensure that broadcasters serve the public interest. Viewers should seize this opportunity.

For more information on these hearings, click on these links:

Benton Foundation
Broadcasting and Cable (magazine)
Chicago Media Action:
Free Press
Illinois PIRG

Monday, September 17, 2007

STATE’S MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR CONSTRUCTION PLANS NEED SAFEGUARD AGAINST POLITICS

Government reform advocates on Monday said the multi-billion dollar construction program about to be debated in Springfield has made the need for limitations on pay-to-play contracting opportunities even more obvious and more important.

“When the Senate returns to Springfield on Monday to take care of its unfinished business from the spring session, House Bill 1 should be at top of its list of things to do,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “The Senate should act swiftly to pass HB 1 and prohibit large state contractors from contributing to the campaign committees of the officeholder awarding the contract.”

The House approved HB 1 by a vote of 116 to 0 on April 25, but the Senate leadership has not allowed it to be debated in the Senate.

“This state government’s reputation as a cultivator of corruption is well deserved, and Illinoisans have good reason to question the likelihood that a multi-billion dollar construction road and transit program will be run on the up and up,” Canary said. “There is serious talk of spending an extra $5 billion per year for each of the next five years and – unless there is a change in law –some contractors will likely feel pressured to contribute to the Governor’s campaign committee and that is not how the people’s business should be conducted.”

The governor’s closest ally in the General Assembly is Senate President Emil Jones, and Jones is responsible for blocking the progress of HB 1. For more than four months, Jones has refused to allow the Senate to vote on HB 1.

Despite Jones’ public claim that he’d like more comprehensive reform, the Senate has failed to produce alternate legislation. Sponsored by 46 of 59 Senate members, HB 1, if called for a vote would pass out of the Senate and go to the Governor’s desk for signature immediately.

“With barely a whimper of protest from his followers in the Senate Democratic Caucus, Senate President Emil Jones has stood in the way of this government reform bill by refusing to assign it to committee,” Canary said. “It’s time he stopped carrying water for Gov. Blagojevich and instead give taxpayers some hope that their money might be spent without regard to political fundraising.”

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Feds are Really Coming

Earlier we posted that the Federal Communications Commission will soon hold a rare public hearing. A few more details have emerged. The FCC is holding its fifth official public hearing on media ownership issues in Chicago on Thursday, September 20th.

Date: Thursday, September 20th
Time: 4:00pm-11:00pm
Location: Operation Push National Headquarters
Dr. King's Workshop
930 East 50th Street
(corner of South Drexel Blvd.)
Chicago, Illinois 60615

Start thinking now about what your testimony might look like!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Feds Are Coming

For years, ICPR has been concerned that broadcasters don't do enough to educate the public about elections. What little news coverage there is tends to focus more on polling and the horse race than on issues, and viewers tend to see more ads than news stories.

The problem got so bad that local media reformers filed complaints in 2005 with the Federal Communications Commission arguing that the failure to cover important local issues was a violation of broadcasters' legal obligation to serve the public interest. (the complaint was dismissed without comment)

The Federal Communications Commission has announced plans to come to Chicago next month. We urge readers who share our concerns to make the trip and let the FCC know what viewers deserve to see.

Details of the meeting are sketchy at the moment. The announced date is Thursday, September 20, and they intend to take public comment. The exact time and place of the meeting are yet to be announced. So, as the broadcasters are fond of saying, stay tuned. But also, be heard. Make plans to attend the hearing, and start thinking of what you'd like to say to the FCC.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Broadcasters and the Public Interest

ICPR has for years been tracking broadcast news coverage of campaigns and elections, and for years we've been dismayed at what we see. TV stations devote a tiny share of their regular news coverage to campaigns and elections, even during the weeks and days leading up to elections. Most coverage is focused on polls and so-called "horse race" issues -- who's ahead, who's down -- while very little airtime goes to the issues that might drive voter interest. Indeed, surveys find that TV stations spend more time on teasers ("up ahead in our broadcasts…") and musical intros to the news ("and now, the news with your anchor…") than to coverage of issues and candidates in elections. Download an analysis of a typical 30-minute broadcast or a copy of the press release.


ICPR recently signed on to a statement submitted to the FCC calling for clarified guidelines for broadcasters in the digital era. The FCC has gone to great lengths to help broadcasters transition to digital broadcasting, which will expand what they can offer over the airwaves. What's missing from the picture, however, are clear rules for serving the public interest.

A copy of the filing, which was facilitated by the Benton Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center, is available here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

United Services Delivers for the Governor

Gov. Blagojevich first sought office on a promise to end business as usual. And he does seem to have developed some new practices. In the past, state contracts were, on occasion, granted to companies known to support the patron's campaign fund. Now, today's press reports suggest, contractors are showing support for their patron in new ways.

United Services of Chicago apparently paid for busses to send people to the State Fair on Democrats' Day, some of whom wore Blagojevich t-shirts and who boo'd Blagojevich's chief rival in Springfield, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Some even told reporters that they were working for the Blagojevich campaign.

United Services has many financial ties to the Governor. Contracts with the group grew from $1M in FY04 to $1.9M in FY07, and the group appears to be in line for $2.3M in state money in FY08. Press coverage has focused on a $775K DCEO contract on FY07, but the bulk of state funding appears to be through IDHS and IDOT.

Press reports suggest that Eddie Read, head of United Services, ran a PAC that gave money to Blagojevich's campaign fund. That would, of course, be the old way of doing business. The new way, apparently, is to have supporters who will pay for busses to deliver protestors to hound your opponents.

The contracts, the campaign contributions and the busloads of support raise too many questions and - once again - make Illinoisans question the fairness and honesty of their state government. A partial solution would be to enact legislation prohibiting state contractors from contributing to the officeholder who awards the contract. HB 1 and other "pay-to-play" legislation is pending in the Illinois Senate. Now that their day of State Fair play is over, legislators should get serious and pass legislation to limit opportunities to pay-to-play.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chicago, that error-prone town

Look for new Chicago data to the website next week. We're going ahead with the release even though there are some notable errors and omissions in some candidate reports, some of which may require the filing of amended reports with the State Board. Among the oddities we've found:

The First C D Victory PAC reports transfers totaling $72,900 to "Citizens to Re-Elect Shirley Coleman." This is not now nor was there ever a committee by that name. The alleged committee shares an address with the 16th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, though, and that's also the only committee that says they support(-ed) Ald. Coleman. That committee, however, still hasn't filed disclosure reports for the first half of the year, so it's not yet clear that they did in fact receive the transfers from the First C D Victory PAC.

Citizens to Elect Willie B Cochran still shows that they cannot identify the occupation and employer of Sheila Cochran, who gave the committee $500 last year. Not only does Sheila Cochran share a last name and address with the candidate, she's also listed as the Treasurer of the committee. Surely someone can find out her occupation and employer.

Friends of Ald. Madeline Haithcock has dissolved, and they've left a mess behind them. They report $198K in non-itemized individual donations (ie, of less than $150), suggesting over 1,320 small donors. They also report $380K in non-itemized expenditures, meaning a minimum of 2,300 small vendors. While it's possible they had over 3,600 small donors and vendors, you'd think a candidate with that many total supporters would poll more than 3,224 votes in the run-off. They also show donations over $500 from 20 people, only three of whom are identified with an occupation and employer. Among those whose occupation and employer the PAC , the did not identify: David Herro, the Trib-profiled equity fund leader who fumed about Big Box; Richard Wendy, a land-use lawyer now with Freeborn & Peters who used to work for the city's Planning and Development Department; and Tim Rand, who co-owns concessions at Midway Airport (Tim's brother and business partner Everett is identified as being involved in "business" for "self."). The committee also reports a donation from "Ibrahim M. Shihodeh", probably meaning Ibrahim M. Shihadeh, a developer with Winthrop Properties. The committee dissolved in July, so we're not optimistic that the official record will be corrected, but we'll do what we can in the Sunshine Database.

New data will be posted soon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

111 Days

Three months can define a career. Most of the alphabet soup agencies that came to embody the New Deal were created during the first three months of FDR's first presidency. In 1985, the song "We Are the World" was recorded on January 28th and hit #1 on the American charts on April 13th. Heck, the U.S. invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003 and President Bush held his "Mission Accomplished" press conference on the USS Lincoln on May 2, 2003.

Where there's a will there's a way. Alas, to date the Illinois Senate has shown no will to address pay-to-play in state contracting.

Despite dozens of news reports highlighting state contracts awarded to campaign contributors, despite exit polls last November showing that 86% of voters think fixing political corruption is very or extremely important to them, despite the support of every major reform organization in the state, despite supportive editorials in over 15 of the largest newspapers around the state, despite the endorsement of five of the six statewide officers in Illinois, despite the votes of 116 members of the Illinois House, and in the face of 46 Senators (out of 59) who have signed on as Sponsors, the bill has never even had a hearing in the Senate.

Today marks the 111th day that House Bill 1 has been locked down in the Senate.

While Senate President Jones and his spokespeople insist they want something "bigger and better," no alternatives to HB 1 have been filed for public hearing. With a budget sent to the Governor, will the Senate President now devote more of his energies to making this happen? He has several possible avenues. Sen. Jeff Schoenberg has worked hard to include pay-to-play rules in his pension and procurement reforms. Sen. Don Harmon still has HB 1 as a stand-alone measure. The public isn't as interested in vehicles as they are in results. Bromides aside, it is high time for the Senate to declare what they will support.

Data Update

We're nearly finished cleaning up the disclosure reports filed by candidates for the first half of 2007. We'd hoped to have it done sooner, but some candidates were late to file. Yesterday, Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran filed his report, 24 days past the statutory deadline, and 13 days past the old due date.

Cochran defeated Arenda Troutman for the seat, and while late filing can't compare with federal indictment, he's still off to a bad start. There were two PACs supporting his candidacy: Citizens to Elect Willie B. Cochran, which he chairs, came in late. Citizens United for Change in the 20th Ward filed on time. He ought to take pointers from the other committee. He's a new alderman and a first time candidate, but we hope he's learned that deadlines matter.

With Cochran's report, we're now about ready to post the new data. Look for new Chicago, State and Cook County data on our Sunshine Database within a week.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Protect Integrity of Capital Spending Plan with Pay-to-Play Reform Legislation

Before the General Assembly adopts a new capital spending plan, whether it is focused on roads and schools or includes bridge repair, it should enact new limits on campaign contributions from state contractors.

“The story on page one of today's Sun-Times reminds us of the history of links between state contractors and state campaigns. Antoin "Tony" Rezko raised untold thousands for Gov. Blagojevich's campaign PAC. And once in office, Rezko seeded the administration with friends, former staffers, business partners and their children. His companies obtained lucrative contracts through the tollway,” said ICPR Director Cynthia Canary. “Until his federal corruption trial is over, no one will know exactly how perfidious the relationship between Rezko and Blagojevich actually was.”

But Rezko was not alone, other examples include:

• IGOR the Watchdog gave Gov. Blagojevich's campaign fund $76K and saw a $150K contract to oversee the sale of Tollway I-Pass transponders balloon into a $7M deal.

• PWS Environmental gave Gov. Blagojevich's campaign fund $22K and got a $522K contract from IDOT to power wash state buildings, including salt domes. PWS' president was also the brother-in-law of then-IDOT Director Robert Millette.

• Harmony Health Plan of Illinois gave Gov. Blagojevich's campaign fund $100K, in five $20K checks from different subsidiaries on the same day and later got a $75M state contract.

All of these stories, well documented in the popular press, helped convince voters that there is an unhealthy connection between campaign fund and state contracts. That's in part why 86% of voters in last November's elections said that corruption was very or extremely important to them. To ensure that a new round of capital spending doesn't result in a new round of headlines, the state must pass tough pay-to-play restrictions.

“We commend Sen. Jeff Schoenberg for doing yeoman's work to find a way to include pay-to-play reforms in the same legislation as the pension and procurement reforms, he has long advocated,” said Canary.

In the meantime, the House approved pay to play legislation (House Bill 1) more than three months ago. If brought to a vote the Senate could send the legislation to the Governor immediately. The time for inaction has long since passed.

Friday, August 03, 2007

U.S. Lobbying

The U.S. Congress this week agreed to new rules governing lobbying. With two former Members of Congress now in jail, former staffers convicted or awaiting trial, and several current investigations on-going, the time arrived for federal legislators to take a good hard look at their relationships with lobbyists.

What they saw was ugly, and they took appropriate steps to address that.

The new proposal tightens regulations on gifts, flights and travel that Members of Congress may accept. It addresses the revolving door problem, of former legislators lobbying their former colleagues. And it requires disclosure of bundling where the lobbyist raises more than $15,000 in a six-month period for the official.

There are a host of scandals, on both sides of the aisle, that led Congress to take this action. But what matters is that they worked together to find a way through it, and passed a measure with broad, bipartisan support.

Reform -- real reform, anyway -- is a long process. Discussion leads to legislation, leads to changes in practice, leads to changes in culture. This is one step along a long path to improved public trust in government. The feds deserve credit for advancing along that path.

If tougher lobbying rules can pass Congress, there is reason to have hope for changes in Illinois.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

PAY-TO-PLAY REFORM HELD HOSTAGE IN SENATE

With the General Assembly in overtime, www.ilcampaign.org on Tuesday began featuring a running count of the days that pay-to-play reform legislation has been held hostage in the Senate Rules Committee.

“Early this spring, the Illinois House approved pay-to-play reforms (House Bill 1) by a vote of 116 to 0, and the Senate placed it in the Rules Committee the next day, April 26,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). “Ninety days have passed, and House Bill 1 has not budged from the Rules Committee.

“Even though 45 members in the 59-member Senate are sponsors of House Bill 1, Senate President Emil Jones will not allow it to be debated by the full Senate,” Canary said. “Emil Jones should free House Bill 1.”

House Bill 1 would prohibit contractors with state business valued over $25,000 from giving to the officials who oversee their contracts and to candidates for that office. Bidders on state contracts would be required to disclose previous campaign contributions, and state officers, employees and their spouses would be prohibited from profiting from state contract and bond deals.

Visit www.ilcampaign.org for the daily count and more information about pay-to-play legislation, a list of supporters and contact information for Senate President Emil Jones.

Powerage

Yesterday's fly-around by the Attorney General and the leaders of the two legislative chambers shows how important electric rates have been recently. Campaign disclosure reports may also add to the picture. This analysis is preliminary, both because we haven't finished running the numbers yet and also because not every committee filed on time. Still, these figures should be suggestive of campaign money flows between electric companies and legislators.

Overall, the industry gave $229K during the first half of 2007. Biggest donors included Com Ed/Exelon ($72K), Midwest Gen ($45K), Ameren ($38K), and Dynegy ($30K). Top recipients include:

Rep. Tom Cross and the House Republican Organization - $37K
Sen. Frank Watson and the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee -$27K
Sen. Jim Clayborne - $13K
House Speaker Michael J. Madigan - $10K (DPI shows -0-)
Illinois Senate Democratic Fund - $10K (Senate President Jones shows -0-)
Rep. Edward Acevedo - $8.5K
Sen. Tony Munoz - $7.5K
Sen. Dale Risinger - $6K
Rep. Brent Hassert - $6K
Rep. Patrick Verschoore - $5K

Check back to ICPR's website for updated disclosure analysis in the coming days and weeks.

Friday, July 20, 2007

D2 Day

Today’s the day for campaign finance disclosure. The usual suspects have or will be filing at the State Board of Elections and ICPR and the Sunshine Project will start work standardizing the names, coding the donors and analyzing the receipts. In the meantime, here’s a summary of three new PACs that were active this Spring.

The First CD Victory PAC (Local ID # 13868) was formed on January 24, 2007 with Congressman Bobby Rush as Chair and Chicago man-about-town Elzie Higginbottom as Treasurer. Before the February elections it raised 43 donations totaling $118K (averaging $2.7K) and gave that money mostly to Aldermanic candidates in the First Congressional District, which Rush represents. Then something happened to the committee. Rush left as Chair, Higginbottom as took over, and the fund really started raising money. After the February 27 elections, the PAC raised another 75 donations totaling $544K (averaging $7.2K). Donors included a who’s who of Connected Chicago, along with a few big box retailers. And, as was widely noted at the time, the PAC started giving to Aldermanic candidates who were (1) in run-offs, regardless of which Congressional District they lived in, and (2) were perceived as being friendly to the Mayor. The funded ended the reporting period with $19K.

ActBlue Illinois (State ID #9277) is a Massachusetts-based in Massachusetts and formed late last year that raises money “To support all Democrats running for state legislative or statewide offices.” It looks like it’s taking a page from U.S. Senator Barack Obama and others who have focused on Internet fundraising on a national scale; but this one seeks to funnel that money into state legislative races. The PAC reported just under $24K in receipts, including about $7K in non-itemized receipts (ie, from donors who gave less than the $150 disclosure threshold). Of its itemized receipts, about half (52%) came from in-state while the rest came from Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, California – you get the idea. It’s an interesting idea in fundraising. Most of the money raised went to one candidate – Daniel Biss, a challenger for a House seat (and what didn’t go to Biss went to processing fees, not other candidates). The PAC ended the period with about $4K on hand.

Citizens for Tax Fairness, Healthcare & Education (State ID #9366) was formed earlier this year to “To advocate for and contribute to the public debate on tax fairness, healthcare and education.” They broadcast a bunch of TV spots ($800K worth, including a few radio ads) in support of Gov. Blagojevich’s proposed Gross Receipts Tax, but didn’t give to any candidates. Their receipts came from four PACs: the IEA ($400K), the IFT ($200K), the Illinois Hospital Assn ($250K), and Planned Parenthood Votes Illinois ($5K. And no, that’s not a typo, just a difference of scale). The Committee listed a PO Box for an address, but if there was ever any doubt who they were affiliated with, one donor listed an address matching the same street and suite number as Friends of Rod Blagojevich. The PAC ended the period with about $19K available.

That’s just three of the over 3,000 committees that should be filing by today. Go look at the State Board of Elections website to see what else is available. And check back to ICPR’s website for an updated Sunshine Database in a few weeks.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Monahan Money

Today the US Attorney for Northern Illinois announced an indictment against Aidan Monahan, of Monahan Landscape Company. The indictment, which alleges that Monahan fraudulently obtained landscaping contracts with the Chicago Public Schools that should have been set aside for minorities and women, is available here (PDF), and the press release is here (PDF).

Monahan and his company have given generously to politicians in the Chicagoland area: over $200K according to the State Board of Elections website, mostly between 1999 and 2003. He appears to have made no donations since 2005. The allegations in today's indictment focus on activities from 2003-2006.

Top recipients include:

Democratic Party of Illinois - $108K (between '99-'02)
Friends of Michael J Madigan - $27K ('99)
Citizens for Lisa Madigan - $25K ('02)
Statesman of the Year (IUOE Local 150) - $23,125 ('99-'05)
33rd Ward RDO - $10.9K ('00-'02) (not including $200 to Citizens for Richard Mell in '99)
Friends of [Chgo Ald.] Patrick J. Levar - $5.5K ('00-'02) (not including $750 to 45th Ward RDO in '99)
Friends of Blagojevich - $5K ('02)
Richard M Daley Campaign Committee - $1.5K ('03)
Citizens for [Former Chgo Ald. Arenda] Troutman - $1.5K ('02)
Citizens for [Former Cook Sheriff] Michael F. Sheahan - $250 ('01)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Do Things Right

The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette recently noted the strong sentiment among Illinois voters for cleaning up government. Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones say they support ethics reform, but the newspaper said they haven't delivered it.

"They talk a good game but their actions show nothing but contempt for ethics reforms," The News-Gazette said in a strong editorial. (Read all of it here.)

Regular readers of this blog know that House Bill 1, which would limit opportunities for pay-to-play in state government, passed the House without any opposition on April 25th, but Senate President Jones has kept it locked in the Senate Rules Committee even though 45 senators have signed on a co-sponsors.

Other important reform legislation also has met a roadblock in the Senate.

The News-Gazette asked some important questions: " . . . why don't the Senate president and his pal, Rod "We do things right" Blagojevich, get behind tough disclosure laws on elected officials, lobbyists, contractors and subcontractors? Why don't they limit no-bid state contracts? Why don't they open up ethics commission investigations?"

This would be a good time for answers and for passing restrictions on pay-to-play opportunities.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Deadline to Disclosure

This Friday is the deadline for campaign disclosure reports for the first half of 2007. The new deadline was signed into law last month and the State Board of Elections now lists on its Disclosure Homepage that "The deadline for filing the June 2007 Semiannual Report is July 20th."

When they use the red ink like that, you know they're serious.

With the legislature still in session, this is a prime opportunity to see who's been giving to whom to influence policy. Electric utilities? Gambling interests? All will be revealed. And don't forget the Chicago elections -- if you've been wondering exactly how much Big box supporters and their opponents in the labor unions ponied up in their proxy wars, check the SBE on Friday. ICPR will post the new data to the Sunshine Database just as soon as our crack staff can process it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Special Session for Ethics?

The Governor has worked himself into a Special Session because a gun control measure, SB 1007, passed the Senate by one vote and hasn't been called for a vote in the House. If he's going to call a Special Session every time a bill passes one chamber and isn't called in the other, this could be a long string of Special Sessions.

But, playing out that hypothetical, if he's really so concerned about the fate of bills that pass one and then don't get called, maybe he should take a look at HB 1, the pay to play ban, which passed the House last April on a unanimous vote and yet hasn't even been assigned to a committee in the Senate. Not that it's unpopular in the upper chamber -- it has 45 sponsors -- more than enough to pass, even if some of them do stay home.

We're not saying that he should call a Special Session for ethics. But if he did, we can see the quote now. "How is it that a bill that passed... the State House that would ban pay to play, didn't get a chance to have a vote in the Senate?" How indeed.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Sausage and Gridlock

The gridlock in Springfield has a lot of people talking about how to streamline the process and increase accountability in the legislative and executive branches. ICPR's Director Cindi Canary has some thoughts on that question in this week's Crain's Chicago Business.

"It's not just the budget. Other major concerns like the quality of public schools, public transit, skyrocketing electric rates, pension debt and even ethics are debated but not resolved.

"It's no wonder that a recent poll found 90% of Illinoisans believe changes are needed in the way we govern and practice politics in this state.

"We should begin by shaking up the power structure and rules that help determine who gets a vote in Springfield."

Read more here.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Earlier Disclosure

The governor and the general assembly can't agree on much this year, but one thing they have agreed on is that political committees should file their reports earlier than in the past. One of the only 12 bills signed into law so far this year is HB 426 (it's PA 95-6, if you're counting).

Likely best known as the bill that moves the primary date, it also moves the dates when campaign disclosure reports are due. Signed on June 20 and effective immediately, it moved up the dates on which campaign reports must be filed with the State Board of Elections by 11 days.

Political committees now have to file their reports by July 20, two weeks from today. Candidates and other PACs in Chicago's elections (and all of the other municipals), the few statehouse announced challengers, and of course all of the statewides and incumbent legislators -- all of that data is due to www.elections.il.gov in a mere two weeks. Get ready, get set!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

End Pay to Play Already

HB 1, the pay to play ban, passed the Illinois House without dissent on April 25th -- 8 weeks ago today. Since then, Senate leadership has left the bill in Rules. And they haven't done much else. They filed, but did not adopt, alternative language as an amendment to HB 824 on May 31, 3 weeks ago tomorrow. In the meantime, the House again passed language banning pay to play in an amendment to SB 1305, on June 14, one week ago tomorrow. And still the Senate lets the matter lie.

While Senate leadership has done nothing, individual Senators have taken action. 45 of them have signed as co-sponsors of HB 1 (apparently, it's the other 14 who are blocking action). Newspapers have taken notice. Every large daily in the state has editorialized in favor of HB 1 (a partial list is on ICPR's homepage). Some more than once -- today's Chicago Sun-Times contains the Sun-Times News Group's third editorial on the subject in two months. Yesterday's Crain's noted that the current system is bad for business. What is it that those 14 Senators don't understand?

Senate inaction is frustrating, and continued foot-dragging may prompt more extreme measures. The Decatur Herald & Review today cites inaction over ethics and campaign finance reform as a reason to support the call for a state Constitutional Convention. Illinoisans want to see their public officials doing what needs doing. Inaction by officials may result in more than just frustration outside the Capitol.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Standing in the way of reform

The weeks since our last post have proved the saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The House has, again, passed legislation to outlaw pay to play practices. Newspapers across the state, from Chicago to Bloomington, have editorialized in favor of HB 1. And the Senate has taken no action on any of the bills that would address the problem.

Below is the text of the latest editorial in favor of HB 1.


State Senate prez standing in the way of reform

June 18, 2007
Illinois Senate President Emil Jones is blocking a measure that could rein in "pay-to-play" politics in Springfield.

A bill that would restrict campaign contributions by people who do business with the state is bottled up in the Senate Rules Committee, a gas chamber for legislation Mr. Jones opposes. He won't allow a floor vote on the bill, which would bar those who have more than $25,000 in state contracts from giving campaign money to the officeholder who awards the contracts.
The Illinois House voted unanimously in favor of the restriction, and 45 of the state's 59 senators are co-sponsors of the bill Mr. Jones doesn't want called for a vote.

Mr. Jones is standing squarely in the path of a long-overdue reform. Illinois has earned a reputation as a state where government contracts are purchased through campaign contributions to the officials who dole them out. Under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the practice has reached new heights.

A series of scandals and indictments stemming from state contracting abuses seems to have finally awakened most of the state's lawmakers to the need for change. Mr. Jones, it seems, hasn't heard the news.

Mr. Jones isn't saying why he opposes the reform bill. But it's hard to imagine an argument that would justify the status quo. Corruption in state contracting costs taxpayers millions. The state pays more than it should when officials award contracts on the basis of clout. And when contractors are graded on the size of their campaign contributions rather than the quality of their work, the state often doesn't get what it pays for.

Pay-to-play politics also undermines public confidence in government and encourages voter apathy. Why should ordinary citizens participate in a process they perceive to be rigged in favor of insiders?

Banning campaign contributions by big state contractors would be a move in the right direction on both fronts. It would help address the state's chronic financial woes and give Illinoisans a reason to believe their state government works for them.

If only Mr. Jones would get out of the way.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lobbyists Everywhere, Reform Frozen

The Tribune reports on today's front page on the number of former aides and current fundraisers for the governor who now are paid to lobby the governor. The numbers may be surprising. But what's not reported is how much these people are paid to lobby the guy they're also raising money for-- because that information isn't available. Once again, data that is public record in many other states and at the federal level, not to mention in Cool County and the City of Chicago, is not collected by the State of Illinois. It's hard to know how much of a conflict of interest the governor has when the public can't even see how much his ex-aides are billing.

A bill to correct this imbalance is now stalled in the House. HB 8 passed out of committee without opposition, and was amended to address concerns of committee members. Nonetheless, it sat on Third Reading for a month before being sent back to Rules last week. When the governor rails against lobbyists in Gucci shoes, part of the solution is to better regulate lobbyists.

Other reform efforts are similarly stymied. SB 222, to create a public financing alternative for judicial elections, is sitting in the House Exec committee, but has not been posted for a hearing. And HB 1, to end pay to play in state contracting, languishes in Senate Rules, despite unanimous support in the House and 44 (!) Senate Sponsors. The end of session package deal ought to include public integrity measures like these to assure the public that their money is being well spent for the public interest, and not merely because well-heeled lobbyists and overly-generous state contractors are paying the freight.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

RELEASE HB 1

The Decatur Herald and Review today editorializes in support of HB 1, the ban on pay to play contracting that passed the House unanimously and now sits in the Senate Rules Committee. The paper writes, "Illinois government has a terrible - and deserved - reputation for corruption in state government. House Bill 1 … deserves a hearing and a vote in the Senate. "

The H&R is the latest in a very long line of newspapers who have taken note of the Senate President's refusal to give this bill a vote. Yesterday the Daily Herald wrote "Jones should allow vote on contract bill." The Tribune urged passage, as did the Sun-Times, the State Journal Register, the Post Dispatch, the Southern Illinoisan, and the list goes on.

It's impossible to argue that the state gets better services by allowing contractors to give unlimited donations to the public official who oversees their contract. Perhaps that's why the Senate President's spokesperson suggested that they were holding the bill while working on language to make it even better.

This bill, however, has been sitting in the Senate for a month. The time for secret revisions is past. HB 1 is positioned to be voted out of the Senate and on to the Governor, and we call on the Senate President to let that happen.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Waiting for Lobbying Reforms

The Feds are still talking about lobbying reforms. It seems the contours are changing, but the prospects for reforms that move forward are still good.

Here in Illinois, the problems continue, as these two AP stories point out. Lots of lobbyists -- many with recent experience as legislators or staffers -- are taking contracts to represent private interests.

In most states, the public could know what those contracts called for, and how the lobbyists work was valued. But here in Illinois, our lobbyist registration system ranks 45th in the nation. A bill to fix that, HB 8, has been sitting on 3rd Reading in the House for nearly 4 weeks. Yesterday it received its third final action extension, to next Friday, the 25th. But when is the House going to move on reform? Will the feds once again act before we do?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Moving the Calendars

HB426, which changes the date of Illinois' primary election, has received a bunch of press coverage. Most of this has focused on how the new primary date may help the presidential aspirations of US Sen. Barack Obama.

But the measure does far more than that, as this story in the Kane County Chronicle suggests. Petitioning for all offices will start sooner than normal, for instance.

The bill also affects disclosure reports for state PACs (since Obama is a federal candidate and office holder, he doesn't file state disclosure reports). The main disclosure reports, the semi-annuals, will be due on July 20 and January 20 rather than on the last days of the month. Because the bill has an immediate effective date, reports covering the first half of this year will be due on Friday, July 20 -- eleven days earlier than normal (about two months from today).

The measure also eliminates pre-election reports for the primary election. Under current law, candidates must file pres covering the period beginning the day after the last semi until 30 days before the election, listing all donations over $150 and aggregating smaller donations. During the last 30 days, they have to file A1s, listing donations over $500, within two days. Because the primary for state and federal elections is so close to the end of the semi, the new measure starts the A1 period on January 1, the day after the semi, and does away with the pre (again, for state and federal primaries, not the odd-year municipals). As a result, the public won't know aggregate totals for smaller donations, or about donors of donations between $150 and $500 more than one month before the primary, which would have been reported (though that's a small window). But we will know about larger donors sooner than under the current law.

The State Board of Elections plans an education effort to let PACs know about these changes to the disclosure calendar, assuming HB426 is signed into law in a timely manner (if the signing is late, the Board may not have much time to educate PACs). These changes will take some getting used to, but we might as well start now -- they're permanent, and will be in place long after the Obama 2008 campaign is over.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lobbyists as Campaign Fundraisers

News comes from the national arena that Congress is considering lobbying reforms. The national lobbying regulation law is already stronger than Illinois, but the feds are now thinking about opening up the link between lobbying and campaign finance. According to the New York Times, the proposal would require lobbyists to disclose their role as bundlers -- people who collect checks for candidates and act as middlemen between donors and PACs.

Illinois' legislature is considering several reforms relating to lobbying. HB 8 would tighten disclosure requirements, bringing Illinois into line with most other states (not to mention Chicago and Cook County) by requiring lobbyists to disclose the terms of their contracts. The measure would also create a first-ever enforcement mechanism to make certain that lobbyists are registered properly. And it would shut the revolving door between most state employees and officials, barring them from lobbying their former colleagues until a cooling-off period had elapsed. HB 8 is on the House floor, waiting to be called for a final vote.

Language relating to bundling is also before the legislature. HB 3497 is generally seen as a limits bill, but it contains language to require disclosure of the role of bundlers in campaign finance. Bundlers would have to report which checks they collected, which would not count against their own limits. HB 3497 had a subject matter hearing, and we anticipate the conversation about limits will only intensify.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Banning Pay to Play

A bunch of editorials in the week shows how people outside the capitol view work under the dome. All too often, money seems to set policy. The quest for campaign dollars seems to drive contracts, leases, and other expenditures from the public purse, with the understanding that some of that public money will be kicked back to the public official's campaign fund.

This isn't how every contact is let, and there may be good reasons for choosing a vendor who has given large donations to candidates. But the stories happen so often, with such large amounts of money involved, and frequently with so little in the way of taxpayer benefits, that the time has come to regulate these transactions.

Two of these editorials are on line, and they're worth quoting. The St. Louis Post Dispatch this week called for reform, noting "Illinois government is notorious for corruption. Candidates for high political office attract contractors eager for state business who are willing to lay campaign contributions at their feet. Gov. Rod Blagojevich collected $234,000 from state contractors in the week before last November's election."

And the Chicago Sun-Times, speaking for the entire Sun Times News Group, also urges, " The Senate should move quickly to adopt the House bill."

Both of these papers note that a better solution would be to limit all giving, rather than just giving between contractors and contractees. And while we agree, we also support viable, consensus solutions. Discussions on broader limits can continue, but unless someone can prove that taxpayers get better services because vendors can make unlimited donations to the official who oversees their contracts, HB 1 ought to become law.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reform: 116 - Pay to Play: 0.

Legislation aimed at limiting the influence of big campaign contributors passed the Illinois House yesterday with the strong support of legislators from both political parties.

“So many big campaign contributors receive big state government contracts that the public no longer buys the explanation that it is just a coincidence,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). “The public is convinced that political connections often are more important than qualifications or price.”

House Bill 1 would prohibit business owners with more than $25,000 in state contracts from making campaign contributions to officeholders awarding the contracts. It also would require contract bidders to disclose past campaign contributions to the constitutional officer responsible for awarding the contracts and would prohibit state officers, employees and their spouses from profiting from state bond deals.

“There are reasons that phrases like ‘follow the money’ and ‘pay to play’ have such currency,” Canary said. “The public has followed the money, and too often the giver of campaign cash is the recipient of government dollars. The perception that you have to pay-to-play is detrimental to public confidence in government and discourages honest business owners from even considering bidding on state contracts.”

HB 1 is part of a package of ethics reforms advocated by Comptroller
Dan Hynes, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulis and a coalition of reform organizations. In addition to ICPR, the supporters include Citizen Action Illinois, the Better Government Association, the Citizen Advocacy Center, Common Cause Illinois, Illinois PIRG, the League of Women Voters of Illinois and Protestants for the Common Good.

HB 1 was sent to the Senate by a vote of 116 to 0. State Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, is the sponsor HB 1. The chief co-sponsors are Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, and State Reps. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock; Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook; and Elizabeth Coulson, R-Glenview.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Utility Donations and the Forby Amendment

Friday's vote in the Illinois Senate to add Com Ed to a rate freeze bill, only to have the effect of that vote nullified by a parliamentary manuever, has gotten a lot of press.

Certainly Com Ed and Ameren have a lot at stake in the vote. And they've given a lot in campaign contributions to incumbent senators. Much of the money they gave would be illegal in most other states, either because it came directly from the corporation (most states ban direct corporate giving) or because of the size of the donation (most states limit giving from each donor). Certainly, neither Com Ed or Ameren could have given as much to leadership as they did, if Illinois had laws like most other states do.

Some Senators may have cast their vote because they think it was the right thing to do. But some other factors may also have been at play, to varying degrees with different Senators. Campaign giving by utilities and transfers from leadership PACs affect all of them.

The attached spreadsheet lists each Senator, how they voted on the Forby amendment, if they were targeted in 2006, when their seat is next on the ballot, and how much they received in 2005-2006 from electric companies (and, if 2006 targets, from leadership.). No one explanation likely covers all 59 Senators. But the answers to most of the votes can likely be found in these factors.

Forby Amendment Analysis

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Observations on Chicago's Runoffs

The voting ended barely 36 hours ago. While many pundits have declared the elections' meaning already, sometimes real conclusions take longer to come to the surface. Here, rather, are some observations on what happened last Tuesday.

Raising the most money
The candidate who reported raising the most since the February elections won 8 of 12 contests: Fiorretti, Dowell, Foulkes, Lane, Colon, Daley, Moore, and Stone. In the 21st, Howard Brookins was out-raised nearly 2:1 and still won the vote by 20 percentage points. In the 24th, Sharon Denise Dixon reported raising only $10K since the February elections; incumbent Michael Chandler reported twelve times that much, but Dixon appears to have won with a 128-vote margin. And in the 32nd, incumbent Ted Matlak reported raising $265K more than Scott Waguespack; outraised more than nine to one, Waguespack appears to have won with a 122-vote margin.

Ballot Position and vote margins
The candidate with first ballot position won 9 of the 12 contests. Interestingly, in two of the three races where the vote margin is less than 200 votes, the apparent winner had the second ballot position: in the 32nd, Scott Waguespack was 2nd on the ballot, and in the 24th, Sharon Denise Dixon was 2nd on the ballot. Though it its tempting to wonder if the results might have been clearer had the ballot positions been reversed, it also bears remembering that this was the only race on the ballot; all voters came to the polls with only one race, and two candidates, to consider.

Turnout
Turnout decided most of these races. Just one in four voters went to the polls. In losing to Bernie Stone, 50th Ward candidate Naisy Dolar's vote totals would have been enough to win in seven of the 11 other races (in the 3rd, 15th, 24th, 32nd, 35th, 43rd, and 49th Wards).