Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Goes to 11

The Semiannual disclosure reports are coming in for last fall's hot statewide and legislative races and it looks like there were 11 races over the $1M mark, not 10 like we earlier thought. Not everybody's filed, but by and large, our estimates were low. We found 10 races that we expected would show spending of more than $1M: the 22nd, 34th, 42nd, 49th, and 52nd Senate races, and the 71st, 91st, 92nd, 101st, and 107th House. It now looks like we missed the 33rd Senate race. Both losing incumbent Cheryl Oxley and winning challenger Dan Kotowski have filed, showing $1,152,662 in combined spending.

If you were watching fundraising totals last fall, there was one other race you might have thought could go over $1M: the race for Jay Hoffman's House seat. Combined, the two candidates showed over $1M in fundraising. But we didn't count it bas a million dollar race because Rep. Hoffman had all the money. The D2s now show that he didn't spend much. Challenger Carol Kugler spent $34K. Hoffman spent $541K, but that includes $61K in transfers to other candidates and $250K buying Certificates of Deposit at the DuQuoin State Bank, after the election. Over all, Hoffman reports raising more than he spent last fall. He ended the year with $970K available, including the CDs.

All reports should be filed by midnight tonight. We'll start analyzing the numbers as soon as they're all in.

Kudos to one of our favorites

Congrats to Mike Lawrence and the staff at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute for their first 10 years. While we think of the Institute as the go-to place for thoughtful insights into campaign reform issues, this article in today's Daily Egyptian reminds us of all the other issues the Institute has tackled over the past decade. Here's to another 10 years, times 10!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

About those discs…

The news that the Chicago Board of Elections released information "ideal …for identity theft" on as many as 1.3 million voters has gotten a lot of coverage in the traditional media and on-line. Most of the coverage has focused on the personal privacy aspects of the release. There's another angle to it, though, as related to election law, and that hasn't gotten covered. These are just questions; we aren't saying conclusively that mistakes were made. And yet the current explanation leave open a series of concerns.

First about the scope of the release. Press reports suggest that data on about 1.3 million voters were on the files, which were initially released in late 2003 and early 2004. The Chicago Board of Elections website notes that there were 1,334,909 voters registered for the March, 2004 General Primary Election. So is it accurate to say that data on all registered voters was on those discs? As a mitigating factor, it's worth noting that not all voters gave their full Social Security numbers when they registered; many, especially those who registered with motor voter forms, gave only the last four digits of their social security numbers or their drivers license numbers, which may mean that identify theft is less of a concern for them than for others. But still, do the discs include every voter in the City of Chicago in late 2003?

If, indeed, the file includes every voter in the City of Chicago, then it's got some interesting names. Just to give a sense of the scope: the mayor and all of the sitting aldermen are probably listed. The Speaker of the House and the Senate President, among other legislators, who now may want to change the laws to prevent this from happening again. All of the statewide constitutional officers, and about a third of our congressional delegation would be there. Press reports suggest that lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court; if the discs included all voters, then it's likely that most of the Circuit's trial judges, and also most of the District's appellate judges, are on these discs. Heck, three-fourths of the state Supreme Court are likely included.

Press reports also suggest that about a hundred copies of the discs were distributed in "late 2003 or early 2004" and the Tribune notes that another half dozen or dozen were distributed recently. If that's accurate, was the Chicago Board of Elections giving out three-year-old data recently? Last October, they announced (PDF) new voter registration totals, including 61,875 new registrations since the 2006 March Primary. Were those not included in the "recently distributed" file? If not, that's lucky for the voters who weren't included, but why were some candidates and campaigns given old data? Were other candidates and campaigns given newer data? Or was the same mistake repeated in all discs distributed over the last three years?

An amendment to Illinois election law, PA 93-574, which took effect in August, 2003, said that Boards of Election could give electronic data files only to candidates and committees. We assume, then, that the 100 or so discs that were distributed in late 2003 and early 2004 went to the campaigns of sitting aldermen and city-wide officials, and some ward committees. In July, 2004, PA 93-847 changed the law to allow distribution of electronic data to governmental entities for governmental purposes. Did anybody else get this data? If so, were they also given the older 2003 version of the data or did they get newer data? Did any of their discs include social security data?

Finally, the stories suggest this but don't say explicitly, so it bears asking: did discs distributed to any of the 264 candidates who filed for Chicago office in December all contain the same current data, without social security numbers?

The release of voter files that include social security records is troubling on many levels. Privacy is certainly one of them. But there are other aspects to the release of this data that deserve explanation.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Paper Tigers

ICPR supports protecting the integrity of elections. We believe that candidates should demonstrate a level of popular support before they can be listed on the ballot. We believe that election officials should do what they must to ensure smooth-running elections. And we believe that voters have a right to know about candidates' personal finances generally and their campaign finances specifically.

We are troubled, though, by media reports of candidates being knocked off the ballot for failing to cross every t and dot every i when they file petitions. What began as a process to ensure that voters would see only candidates making serious runs for office has in some places devolved into a process that ensures that voters see only the names of incumbents.

In at least three instances, candidates for office in Chicago, Decatur and Forest Park were thrown off the ballot for failing to file the receipt for their Statement of Economic Interest along with their petitions. In each of these instances, the candidates claim that they did in fact file the Statements of Economic Interest prior to filing petitions, ensuring that voters had access to the same information about them as about other candidates. But due to clerical error, a misunderstanding of Illinois' election law, or forgetfulness, they did not file the receipt for the Statement along with their petitions. And for that reason alone, they won't be on the ballot.

It's hard to see how the public interest is served in this instance by denying voters the chance to see these candidates on the ballot. Illinois' Constitution requires that candidates file Statements of Economic Interest and says that any candidate who fails to do so forfeits the right to appear on the ballot (office holders, too, forfeit their office by failing to file). But these candidates did file the Statement. It's only in statute that the law directs election authorities to deny candidates a spot on the ballot for not filing the receipt.

These rules seem arbitrary and intended for some purpose other than protecting the integrity of the election, especially since some flaws can be fixed after the petitions are filed while others, like the Statement receipt, cannot. The goal of the election is to give voters a choice among serious, credible candidates to select who is best fit to hold office. The rules should not be used unreasonably to narrow that choice to one between the incumbent and nobody else.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why Campaign Finance Reform?

Papers around the state have touted the need for campaign finance reform. The Bloomington Pantagraph editorialized this weekend, "Putting limits on donations made by individuals, parties, corporations and political action committees to political campaigns may not end corruption in Illinois. But it would be a good start." Jim Muir's Sunday column in the Southern quoted John Jackson, a visiting Professor at SUIC, "this bothers the people of Illinois and the indication is that we are very skeptical and quite cynical, and probably campaign finance is the number one reason behind that skepticism and cynicism… As a people we are very skeptical that [elected officials] come awfully close to being for sale." And the Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch wrote that pay to play reform "is essential to restore faith in a state government that many consider one of the most corrupt in the country."

We agree with all of them. Illinois' campaign finance rules are the most wide-open, least regulated in the nation. Any candidate can take as much money from any donor as they can persuade the donor to part with. And the result is voter cynicism about the conflict between constituents and contributors for official's loyalties.

Campaign finance reform is nobody's top issue. Most people assume government will be well-run and responsive to voters concerns. When it's not, however, voters start asking why they're not getting what they deserve from their elected officials. By allowing specialized interests to target huge donations -- not just tens of thousands of dollars at a time but multiples of average annual household earnings -- to candidates for office, Illinois' Election Code fosters the impression that bribes and campaign donations are the same thing. To restore public faith in government, and to make clear that constituents matter far more than contributors each and every time that an elected casts a vote, Illinois must change the way campaigns are funded.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Leading by Leadership

Governors across the country are beginning their new terms with bold visions of improved ethics and campaign finance systems in their states. In Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland signed orders on his first day in office to limit gifts from lobbyists and mandate ethics training. In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist signed orders to enhance transparency and hold his office more accountable. In New York, Gov. Elliot Spitzer started his term by signing new executive orders to restrict campaign contributions to the governor and lt. governor and close the revolving door between government and lobbying firms. To our north, Gov. Jim Doyle yesterday called the Wisconsin General Assembly into special session to deal with ethics legislation.

But not so in Illinois. Five of our six statewide constitutional officers highlighted their intentions to improve ethics in their new terms. The governor was the only one who stood silent on the issue.

Governor Blagojevich won a second term with a smaller percentage of the vote than did President Bush. Both began their second terms claiming that victory gave them a mandate. It might be more accurate to say that, rather than a mandate, both have an opportunity to govern. President Bush failed to address the underlying concerns voters had about his first administration and his recompense was the loss of both chambers of Congress. Governor Blagojevich must address widespread unease with how his campaign warchest has been funded and how that may have influenced the way his administration has developed policy, let contracts, and hired board and commission members. While the legislative map makes loss of even one chamber unlikely in Illinois, voters and legislators are watching to see how honorable the new administration will be.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Most Politicians are Ho's

There were two big news events yesterday. The first started at 7 am when federal agents arrived at the door of Chicago Ald. Arenda Troutman and arrested her on corruption charges. The counts against her allege that she squeezed drug dealers for bribes in exchange for building permits and protection from city inspectors. Apparently Ald. Troutman didn't think her actions were all that different from what other pols do. “Well, the thing is, most aldermen, most politicians are ho’s,” she allegedly said on tape. We sincerely hope that Ald. Troutman's characterization is wrong, but events lead us to wonder.

The second event started at noon when the statewide constitutionals were sworn in. Each gave a speech outlining their goals for the next four years. And while most, including Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and Comptroller Dan Hynes, talked about cleaning up Illinois government, the governor did not. The governor, who last year spent tens of millions of campaign funds, much of it raised from state contractors and bidders, board and commission applicants, and others with direct interests before his office, to broadcast TV ads alleging that his opponent was unethical, now has other priorities. Rather than fix the problems within state government he outlined in the campaign, this governor is turning his attention to other issues -- valuable though they may be -- and ignoring issues he raised to voters last fall.

Voter concerns about ethics and honesty in government aren't limited to Illinois. National Democrats know that part of why they retook both chambers of the U.S. Congress is voter concerns about how Republicans handled scandals, from Duke Cunningham to Mark Foley. Democrats aren't perfect -- they have their own William Jeffersons to deal with -- but to their credit they have moved swiftly to bring legislation to the fore to address those concerns. As USA Today reminds us in this morning's editorial, actions watch what we do, not what we say.

Illinois, too, has serious problems of credibility when it comes to proving that government is driven by the needs of the people, not just the needs of the pols. When talking about how voters see government, Ald. Troutman has a better read on the electorate than the governor. It remains to be seen who will take clear and consistent action to really fix the problem.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reform Now

As the 94th GA prepares to hand over the gavels to the 95th GA and new statewide constitutionals are sworn in, there's more and more talk of what Illinois needs to do next. As they were sworn in this morning, some of the statewides noted the need for reform legislation, specifically pay to play proposals (not, alas, the governor; no, it was Comptroller Hynes and Treasurer Giannoulias who voiced the need for reform).

What's happening outside of the Capitol? Well:

The Decatur Herald & Review says: "THE STATE of Illinois needs to reform its campaign finance laws immediately." And that's just the lede. It goes on from there.

And the Bloomington Pantagraph ran a three-parter on how campaign finance drives public policy debates. First up, on Saturday, was an in depth look at legislative fundraising. They also ran an intriguing piece on how money gets
laundered through Illinois' political process. Yesterday's was on the growing roster of legislators and statewides who support reform. They're planning a fourth piece to run in February, after all the disclosure reports are filed later this month, summarizing issues with campaign finance.

In all, there promises to be a lot of good reading during the time when the legislature is waiting for the construction to end. Maybe our electeds will follow the stories.