MOST POPULAR ANSWERS ON FORM: “NONE” AND “DOES NOT APPLY”
State and local candidates on the November ballot are required to complete “Statements of Economic Interest,” but the government form requires so little information that most answers are of little to no value to voters, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).
Because the questions on the form seek minimal information about income, investments and potential conflicts of interest, 28 percent of all state legislators and their opponents in the 2008 election answered “none” to all eight questions on the Statement of Economic Interest (SEI).
ICPR examined SEIs filed by incumbents and candidates for the General Assembly, the six statewide officeholders and candidates for open judicial seats. The findings included:
• More than 75 percent of SEI questions were answered with “None” or “Does Not Apply.”
• A side-by-side comparison of the state and federal forms submitted by congressional candidates who are members of the Illinois General Assembly demonstrated the weakness of the Illinois SEI. The federal forms revealed information about personal income and investments that did not even have to be mentioned on the Illinois form.
• Fourteen of the 280 state legislators and challengers disclosed a “close economic association” with a lobbyist but did not – and were not required to – disclose any information about the magnitude of the “economic association.”
• Even though the Illinois Constitution and state statutes make it clear that candidates for state office must file statements of their economic interest and all do file SEIs prior to the primary election, more than one-quarter of the candidates for the General Assembly did not file updated forms prior to the May 1 deadline for filing forms detailing economic interests for 2007.
“Upwards of 100,000 public officeholders and employees complete these forms every year, and virtually all of them are worthless,” said Cynthia Canary, ICPR Director. “Voters deserve to know the sources and amounts of income and about the investments held by state and local officials, but Illinois laws are so weak that the Statements of Economic Interest hide much more than they disclose to the public.”
ICPR’s report made the following recommendations for strengthening state requirements:
• The Illinois Statement of Economic Interest should mandate reporting of the person’s source and amount of income; value of investments and income from each; the purchase and sale date of investments; and whether investments and income accrue to the filer, spouse or minor child.
• Information should be reported about investments held outside of Illinois, as well as those currently reportable investments within the state, and the disclosure threshold for investments should be low enough to capture all investments of $100 or more.
• In addition to asking the identity of any lobbyist maintaining a “close economic relationship” with the filer, the SEI should elicit information about lobbyists who are related to the filer, and the extent of their financial benefit.
• SEIs should be filed electronically and in a searchable format.
• Winners in primary elections should be required to file new reports for the previous calendar year no later than May 1 of the election year.
• Enforcement of the economic disclosure laws should be enhanced, and the Illinois Secretary of State should be required to conduct random audits to determine the accuracy of filed SEIs.
“Illinois’ Statements of Economic Interest are deplorable,” said David Morrison, Deputy Director of ICPR and lead researcher and writer of the study. “The questions on the form were drafted more to obfuscate than to enlighten. By failing to ask meaningful questions and demand detail, the questions keep potential conflicts of interest hidden, and Illinoisans are left in the dark.”
The full report can be found at www.ilcampaign.org.