The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) has asked the State Board of Elections (SBE) to investigate the campaign committees of a Chicago alderman and a state legislator.
The campaign fundraising committees supporting the re-election of Chicago Alderman Ed H. Smith and State Rep. Annazette R. Collins, D-Chicago, appear to have violated state campaign finance laws through a series of inaccurate and incomplete contribution and expenditure reports filed with the SBE.
“There is evidence that these two committees have failed to file complete and accurate reports of contributions and expenditures since at least 2005,” Cynthia Canary, ICPR Director said Monday. “Because Illinois law has few restrictions on campaign fundraising, it is imperative that action be taken by the state board charged with enforcing public disclosure of campaign financing.
“Defenders of the state’s scandal-ridden political financing system argue that public disclosure of campaign contributors and expenditures is all that is needed to protect state government from undue influence by special interests, but a public disclosure system without enforcement, like the one in Illinois, is an invitation to corruption,” Canary said. “At a minimum, let’s have full disclosure, strong enforcement and stiff penalties against those who willfully violate the laws."
“The State Board of Elections is so weak that it doesn’t even conduct random audits of campaign committees, let alone initiate investigations of reports which appear erroneous on their face,” said Kent Redfield, a professor of political studies and public policy at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Redfield joined ICPR in filing the complaints. Redfield is Director of the Sunshine Project, which works to increase public awareness and understanding of the role of money in Illinois politics.
The full text of the complaints can be found at www.ilcampaign.org.
The complaint against the Committee for Ed Smith, which funds his re-election campaigns for alderman and for Democratic Party committeeman from the 28th Ward, includes the following findings:
• Smith was engaged in a 2007 re-election campaign with an opponent who reported more than $12,000 in expenditures and more than $5,000 in in-kind donations. However, Smith’s committee reported it did not receive any contributions and did not make any expenditures between July 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2007.
• On several occasions from 2005 through 2007, other political committees disclosed the transfer of a total of more than $20,000 to Smith’s committee, but Smith’s committee did not disclose receiving those funds. Other committees also reported receiving checks from the Smith campaign, but Smith’s committee did not disclose those expenditures.
• Some of the reports filed with the SBE by the Smith committee signified sloppy accounting and disregard for meaningful campaign disclosure. For example, one of the Smith committee’s reports showed $19,500 in receipts and no expenditures for the last six months of 2004. More than six months later, the committee submitted an amended document reporting an additional $42,700 in contributions received and more than $18,000 in expenditures.
The complaint against Friends of Annazette R. Collins includes the following findings:
• From July 1, 2005 to the present, the Collins committee reported it did not receive any contributions and did not make any expenditures. Collins won re-election in 2006 and defeated an active opponent in the 2008 primary election.
• From Jan. 1, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2007, reports from several political action committees showed a total of more than $35,000 in contributions to the Collins committee, but the Collins committee did not report receiving any of those funds.
"We are concerned that Representative Collins and Alderman Smith have failed to report a true representation of their contributions and expenditure,” said Canary. “But more importantly, we believe that these cases underscore how important it is for the State Board of Elections to begin auditing campaign committees. Public disclosure is the only law governing Illinois campaign finances, and the lack of an auditing system makes it impossible to know whether committees are obeying the law..”
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ICPR is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest organization conducting research and advocating reforms to promote public participation in government, address the role of money in politics and encourage integrity, accountability and transparency in government. For more information about ICPR and the Sunshine Project, visit www.ilcampaign.org.