Wednesday, December 09, 2009

ICPR Says Contribution Limits Bill is Victory for Illinois Voters

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) on Wednesday said the campaign contribution limits legislation signed by Gov. Quinn is a significant victory for Illinois voters and should help reduce the influence wielded by big campaign contributors.

“Credit for enacting this significant, but long overdue reform, goes to the people of Illinois,” said Cynthia Canary, ICPR Director. “The arrest of Rod Blagojevich one year ago and the subsequent worldwide headlines and talk show appearances turned stomachs across the state. The spectacle drew the attention of every voter, and the General Assembly could no longer ignore the growing call for change in the rules that govern campaigns.”

Noting that the fight to impose contribution limits in Illinois dates back more than three decades, Canary said the opposition can be traced in part to the culture of corruption that has plagued Illinois government and the indifference displayed by too many elected officials. “Imposing contribution limits will not cure all that ails Illinois politics and government,” Canary said. “No single law can ensure honesty and fairness. That is going to require the active participation of many more citizens acting as watchdogs, holding candidates accountable for their actions and running for state and local offices.

“Enactment of this limits bill is reason for optimism about the future prospects of additional reforms, including the enforcement of campaign laws, regulation of lobbying and disclosure of personal finances of key government officeholders,” she said. “But because this bill limits party and legislative leader contributions to candidates in primaries but not in general election campaigns, even this bill fell short of what is needed, and we’ll work to close that loophole in the next legislative session.”

For additional information about SB 1466 and other reform issues, please visit

Founded in 1999 by the late Sen. Paul Simon, ICPR is a non-partisan public interest group that conducts research and advocates reforms to promote public participation in government, address the role of money in politics and encourage integrity, accountability, and transparency in government.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Phillies in Five!!!

or, Why Redistricting Matters

The Philadelphia Phillies are facing elimination tonight in game 6 of the World Series. One week ago, their ace pitcher led the team to a clear 6-1 rout of the Yankees, but New York came back to win the next three by scores of 3-1, 8-5, and 7-4. Philadelphia won the fifth game 8-6, but they have to win both remaining games to take the Series.

If the Phillies had scored the same number of runs in different games, the Series would be very different. If the Phillies, for instance, could move 3 runs from game 1 to game 2, they'd still have won the first game, 3-1, but they also would have won the second game 4-3. In which case, it'd be the Yankees facing elimination. And indeed, if you drained the Phillies' excess runs from games 1 and 5 and moved them to games two and three, while also moving a few Yankee runs from those games into game 4, one could have engineered a Philadelphia Championship last Monday night.

Of course, the Yankees could plot similar changes. They've outscored the Phillies, and could re-jigger their runs into a five-game Championship (they'd still need five games anyway you slice it, but moving one run each from games 2, 3, and 4 into game 5 would have ended the Series).

Now, the purists will insist that's not how the game of baseball is played. Runs count only in the game in which they are scored. But that's exactly how the game of redistricting works. Voters can be moved from one district to another.

Suppose you're a public official who squeaks by each election, while a friendly official in a neighboring district coasts to victory time and time again. Couldn't you take a few of their voters, who'd be only too happy to vote for you, and ditch some of the malcontents who don't appreciate your candidacies? If you're always drawing 52%-55% of the vote to your neighbor's 72-75%, just by trading a few precincts, you could both get a comfortable 60% without too much trouble. You get to spend more time with your family at election time (without leaving office!) and the voters? They get you to represent them. What's not to like?

A lot, actually, Redistricting is never a benign process. Redistricting can inflate a political majority, deny representation to minorities, and insulate officials from the normal checks on power that elections are supposed to bring. Especially when redistricting is dominated by one political party, as it has been in Illinois for the last three maps, the process can hand an enormous electoral advantage to the side that draws the lines.

Redistricting is a necessary part of governing. Districts should be roughly equal in population, so as people move around, districts should be redrawn. They should also be crafted so that the governing body, as a whole, most accurately reflects the voters, as a whole. But how you draw the lines, how you slice the dirt, can determine who votes for which officials, who can run against which officials, and ultimately who gets to be an official. It's not surprise that officials take a keen interest in redistricting.

Most voters don't seem to follow the process. But it's not too late. Maps get drawn in 2011, after the 2010 census. If you want to learn more about how the process works, the redistricting game, which was put together by the Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California, is a great place to start.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

CHANGE Illinois! Says Agreement to Limit Campaign Contributions Puts Illinois on the Road to Reform

Remains Committed to Additional Reforms

The CHANGE Illinois! coalition has reached agreement with Governor Quinn, Senate President Cullerton and Speaker Madigan on legislation that would establish limits on campaign contributions by political parties, legislative leaders, individuals, corporations, unions, and PACs.

For the first time in the history of Illinois – one of only five states where unlimited campaign contributions are legal – there would be limitations on the amount of money contributed to political campaigns.

Other important elements of the agreement will create a framework for regulation of the finance system and enforcement of a new limits law. They include:
• Swift disclosure to the public of every contribution of $1,000 or more;

• Quarterly (now just twice a year) reports from committees detailing the source of every contribution of more than $150 and listing how funds were spent in the quarter;

• Audits of the finances of political committees selected at random by the State Board of Elections to check compliance with state laws; and

• Creation of a searchable database of penalties assessed by the State Board of Elections in response to violations of the campaign disclosure and limitation laws.

In addition, a bi-partisan task force, including public members, will be created to analyze the new limits, make recommendations for improvements, and examine the feasibility of creating a voluntary public campaign finance system for all state offices, including the judiciary.

“Setting limits on contributions to political campaigns, will be an important step in bringing meaningful reform to Illinois,” said George Ranney, a co-chair of CHANGE Illinois! and President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020. “As important as this first step is, it is only that – one step in a long road to the reform of this state’s political culture. We have much more work to do and loopholes to be closed.”

“After scandals in Washington and in state capitols and city halls around the nation, the federal government and most other states passed laws limiting the role of campaign contributions during the past couple of decades,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “Finally, Illinois is about to signal to the rest of the nation that we’re ready to join them and impose limits on all contributions coming into the system.”

CHANGE Illinois! is a coalition of civic, business, labor, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, which represents more than 2 million members advocating for Illinois to join the federal government and virtually every other state in the nation by enacting campaign finance limits.

The coalition led a public education campaign that generated support for strong campaign finance reform and resulted in Gov. Quinn’s veto of a badly flawed campaign finance bill passed earlier this year by the General Assembly. Members of the coalition promised to work with the Governor and legislative leaders to produce a bill with meaningful limits and effective enforcement tools.

Following that veto, the coalition worked with the Governor and legislative leaders to design a reform program that would be comparable to systems in use elsewhere in the nation.

Under terms of the agreement, individuals will not be able to contribute more than $5,000 to any candidate in an election cycle; businesses, labor unions and associations will have $10,000 limits on contributions to candidates; and political action committees will be limited to no more than $50,000 per candidate.

One major stumbling block in negotiations centered on the ability of political parties and caucus leaders to transfer unlimited amounts of money from their funds to political candidates. The final agreement does include limits on the amounts of money that can be transferred to candidates during primary elections. Party leaders will no longer be able to control local primary election campaigns by pouring unlimited amounts of money into the campaigns of favored candidates.

“There was no agreement reached on transfers from leaders to candidates during general election campaigns, but CHANGE Illinois! will continue to advocate for those limits in the future,” Ranney said.

“Because parties and legislative leaders have been able to contribute unlimited amounts of money in primary campaigns, few people have been willing to run for
office without the backing of party leaders,” said Anton Valukas, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and a member of CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “As long as they have the support of their leaders, many state legislators get a free ride to reelection. Setting limits in the primary will not remove all advantages of incumbency, but they should give more challengers a fighting chance and offer voters more choices.”

The agreement will create limits on transfers from party leaders to all candidates for all state and local offices in primary elections. Each limit will be an aggregate limit, meaning the total of any combination of party and leader committees in a primary cannot exceed the limit. The limits on transfers are $200,000 for statewide candidates, $125,000 to Senate candidates, $75,000 for House candidates, and a range of limits from $50,000 to $125,000 for candidates running for every other office – from local offices to seats on the Illinois Supreme Court.

"Placing limits on campaign contributions and their influence is an important first step in reminding our elected officials that the citizens and voters of Illinois have special interests too," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois Senior State Director. "This legislation promises to be a significant first step in addressing the lack of public confidence in the capability of our elected officials to address the issues concerning individuals and their families during these difficult economic times."

“This reform measure, while imperfect, is a long time overdue and an essential first step toward a cleaner, fairer, more representative election system,” said Dawn Clark Netsch, a former legislator, statewide officeholder, long-time advocate of limits and a member of CHANGE Illinois! coalition.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

CHANGE Illinois Says Campaign Contribution Limits Must Be Applied Fairly and Across-The-Board

A coalition of campaign reform advocates on Thursday reported some progress in negotiations on campaign finance reform legislation, but the unresolved issue of limiting contributions by legislative leaders and political parties has prevented a final agreement.

“When Gov. Quinn vetoed the flawed limits legislation at the end of August, the legislative leaders and the governor said they would work with us on an improved limits bill that could be passed in the fall veto session, and we have participated in several negotiating meetings and side discussions,” said George Ranney, co-chair of CHANGE Illinois! and President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020. “That veto session begins next week, and we still don’t have an agreement. We’re running out of time.”

Leaders of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition said the negotiators appear to have tentative agreements on ways to limit contributions by individuals, political action committees, candidate committees, corporations, labor unions, and associations, but they have not been able to agree on the central issue of limitations on the campaign funds controlled by legislative leaders and the political parties.

“There has been a good exchange of information and ideas with legislative leaders and the governor, and we seem to have agreements on several issues,” said Peter Bensinger, a CHANGE Illinois! co-chair and a former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. “But we will not be part of any agreement which limits contributions from everyone except legislative leaders and political parties.”

Created earlier this year, CHANGE Illinois! is a coalition of civic, business, labor, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, which represent more than 2 million members in Illinois. CHANGE Illinois! advocates an end to this state’s unregulated campaign finance system and for the creation of a system of campaign contribution limits, like those in use at the federal level and in virtually every other state in the nation.

For a copy of the full press release and supporting documents, please visit the CHANGE Illinois! website at

Friday, September 25, 2009

Supreme Court Upholds Importance of Elections

The Illinois Supreme Court has been busy, and while most of the news coverage has been on wills and religion, sex offenders, and the death penalty, let's not forget another ruling that came down this week. In Gardner v Mullins, a unanimous court ruled that units of government cannot manipulate the length of time an appointee serves in elected office in order to avoid the voters. (download a pdf) We applaud the Court for preserving the integrity of the ballot.

The case arose after the death of an elected member of the Winnebago County Board. Mary Ann Aiello's term was to end on December 6, 2010. Her death on June 26, 2008 cut that short, leaving just over 29 months remaining on her term. According to state law, partial terms of more than 28 months can be filled by appointment only until the next General Election which, in this instance, would have been in November, 2008. The Winnebago County Board, however, did not appoint a successor until two months had elapsed, so that only 27 months remained in the term. That appointee then claimed that he did not have to stand for election until 2010.

The ability to appoint members to elected bodies is one of the more delicate powers given to public officials. The goal is to ensure a modicum of public representation until the voters can voice their desires. Special elections can be costly and generally draw low voter turnout; for many offices, Illinois policy is to allow for interim appointments until the next regular election.

But the power can be and has been abused. Most political observers can cite an instance or three of the swapping of one candidate for another after the primary or the substitution of one official for another after the election, all without asking the voters if they approve of the change. Usually, there is no recourse when the new official lacks credibility, except to wait for the next election.

In this case, the Supreme Court has narrowed the circumstances where a public body can manipulate the process to ensure that a favored person becomes a public official. By ruling that the remaining time on the ballot, which determined how soon voters are consulted, is calculated from the start of the vacancy and not the time of the appointment, the Court has appropriately make clear that voters should be consulted whenever possible, and not merely when convenient for the appointers. The unanimity of the ruling, written by Justice Garman, underscores this important point.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cindi Canary in the News

ICPR Director Cindi Canary is in this week's Crain's Chicago Business with a discussion of Rod Blagojevich's recent book and how it relates to the way that campaign finance reform is playing out. A subscription is required, but here's the link.

And here's an excerpt:

With about 275,000 new book titles published annually in the United States, the odds were that, sooner or later, even Rod Blagojevich would find a publisher.

“The Governor” tells his side of the story, and I’m not buying it—either the book or his fairy tale about the zealous prosecutor out to get him.

Some might ask what Illinois has done to deserve the spectacle of Rod Blagojevich on the talk-show circuit and his wife on a jungle reality show.

And if you were listening to NPR over the weekend, yes, that was Cindi in a rebroadcast of This American Life. The show, which originally aired in 2000, includes a segment with Cindi discussing a situation where "The Fix is In." Download the free podcast here:

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Citizens United, and Citizens' Elections

The US Supreme Court today hears oral arguments in Citizens United v FEC. It's an unusual time for the US Supreme Court to hear arguments (their term doesn't start until next month), but Citizens United is not a typical case. The Court heard arguments last Spring in the case and then took the unusual step of asking for additional arguments on issues not raised by the parties. This could be the case where the US Supreme Court takes off on a new activist agenda in the area of campaign finance.

Many have weighed in on the possible outcome, and ICPR signed onto an amicus brief (PDF) urging the Court to consider the impact of their decision on judicial elections. Much of the commentary has focused on the possibility that the Court will strike down a century of jurisprudence that forbids corporations to make campaign donations. But there are a lot of other ways the Court could rule, which also would have a dramatic impact on how campaigns are conducted, and how the public perceives the honesty of the electoral process.

At issue is whether an organization can promote a commercial enterprise during the weeks right before an election, when that commercial enterprise is focused squarely on a candidate in the election. Citizens United produced "Hillary: The Movie," a documentary critical of then-US Sen. and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and sought to promote the movie through TV commercials. The movie itself was available on a pay-per-view basis. The FEC objected, finding that the ads to promote the movie violated the electioneering communications provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act.

How far the Court uses this case to strike down portions of McCain-Feingold will indicate how activist the Court has become. The Court could find merely that the FEC was mistaken that the electioneering communications provision covered the ads. (The electioneering communications provision deals with some ads that mention candidates in the 60 days before a General Election) The Court could find that the electioneering communications provision is unconstitutional in some circumstances, or perhaps in all circumstances. At an extreme, the Court could find, as some have predicted, that corporations have a constitutional right to participate in elections by making campaign contributions.

How the Court rules will clearly have a significant impact on how states can ensure the integrity of elections by regulating campaign finances. While striking the prohibition on corporate contributions is indeed the worst case scenario, it would have little impact in Illinois, where corporations can and do already make large (indeed, unlimited) contributions. But Illinois also has an electioneering communications provision and so a ruling in that area will affect Illinois. No matter how the Court rules, states around the nation, including Illinois, will have to take stock of their laws and make changes to assure the public that elections are fair and honest.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ding, Dong, HB 7 is dead!

Flanked by the four legislative leaders, Gov. Pat Quinn today vetoed HB 7, the severely flawed contribution limits bill approved this May, and said he would work with all interested parties to craft a new campaign finance system by this fall.

Quinn said he has a “firm commitment” from the legislative leaders -- Senate President John Cullerton, Speaker Michael Madigan, House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno – that they will work with his office and all interested parties to create a better campaign finance system. Gov. Quinn said he expects the new legislation will be finished in time for the legislative session in October, commonly known as the veto session.

ICPR strongly opposed HB 7 and we commend the governor for rejecting this legislation. We also applaud the legislative leaders, and sponsor Sen. Don Harmon, for agreeing to head back to the negotiating table and creating a better campaign finance system for Illinois.

We look forward to working with the leaders and Gov. Quinn to create a campaign finance system that creates meaningful campaign contribution limits, while also improving disclosure and enforcement provisions.

In his statements to the press, Gov. Quinn said he decided to veto the bill because of the feedback he heard from Illinois residents. We thank you for contacting Gov. Quinn, along with your lawmakers, to ask them to support meaningful campaign finance legislation, and we encourage you to continue speaking out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Independent Expenditures

Today we resume our series on the problems with HB 7, beyond the astronomical dollar limits. Previous posts are here and here and here and here and here.

Independent expenditures are so common in federal elections that they are routinely referred to by the initials "IE." These IE campaigns spring up in part because federal law limits how much anybody can give to a candidate, so that groups that want to spend more in support or opposition to a candidate have to work outside of that candidate's campaign. And there are explicit disclosure and contribution limit rules for IE efforts in federal law.

It makes sense for Illinois to adopt rules for IE campaigns at the same time that we adopt limits on campaign contributions generally. But while HB 7 has a section on "independent expenditures," it uses the term in very different ways than federal law does. These differences threaten the effectiveness and legality of the bill.

While federal law applies to any organization, the provision in HB 7 dealing with independent expenditures applies only to those "made by a natural person," meaning single individuals acting alone. The immediate consequence of this is to suggest that no other entity can engage in "independent expenditures," and the consequences of that would be vast. It would turn the contribution limits into spending limits, for one, which would certainly draw a skeptical judicial eye in the inevitable challenge (note that the bill exempts parties and some other committees from this limit).

There are also apparent drafting problems in this section. The section ensures a modicum of disclosure from natural persons acting independently of any political committee. Individuals are required to report when they have spent $3,000 and again at $20,000. It is not clear that the bill would require any continuing obligation to report -- say, at increments of $20,000. Nor is it clear that the person would have any obligation to disclose at the time that they commit to making an expenditure. If they have to disclose only when they actually pay the bills, that disclosure may well come well after the ads have run, and long after Election Day.

To the extent that HB 7 tried to ensure that individuals making large expenditures in relation to candidates are covered by disclosure requirements, the bill is on a useful errand. But the section is drafted in ways that fall short of that goal and threaten the abilities of others to make their voices heard in the course of campaigns. It needs to be re-written.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Effective Date

All new laws take effect eventually. Many laws take effect within a few weeks of passage; in some instances, they'll take effect a few months after passage. But HB 7 isn't like most other bills. The majority of HB 7 would not take effect until January 1, 2011, more than 19 months after the House and Senate approved it.

There can be valid reasons for delaying implementation, but contribution limits should not be delayed that long. HB 7 deals with the rules of campaign finance, and changing those rules in such a fundamental way in the middle of a campaign can cause great confusion. When New Mexico adopted contribution limits in March of this year, their legislature set the effective date at November 3, 2010. That's a long way off, but it's the day after the 2010 General Election, so it makes sense -- as soon as the next election cycle is over, the rules change. And that's one of the two effective dates that we kicked around in regard to HB 24 (the other being, "immediately").

There are at least two significant problems with January 1, 2011 as a start date. First, it gives politicians 7 weeks after the 2010 General Election to get ready. One of ICPR's early legislative wins was the ban on taking campaign funds for personal use, which became law in 1998. In order to win approval of the law, we had to agree to a kind of "grandfather clause" that exempted funds raised before the effective date of the law. Wouldn't you know it, one legislator's campaign fund "borrowed" $100K on the day before the effective date. They paid it back the day after, but on the day the law took effect, they had an extra $100K in their fund, money they will be able to claim for personal use when they retire. (On the upside, there was only one legislator who was this crafty). Setting the effective date for contribution limits 7 weeks after the election will likewise allow for more last minute shenanigans, as contributors evaluate incumbents and decide which should get a final outsized donation before the law takes effect.

The other problem with the effective date is that it occurs just 7 weeks prior to the 2011 municipal elections. Candidate petitions will be due in December, objections will be decided and the ballot fixed and then the campaign finance rules will change. Candidates can take huge sums in December, 2010, but after January 1st anyone who didn't get their fundraising ramped up in time will have to comply with new rules. This scenario will play out in localities all over Illinois, including the City of Chicago.

There are serious policy reasons why the date should be moved up to November 3, 2010.

While we're on the subject of dates in the bill, one more bears notice. HB 7 creates a study commission to examine the question of public financing for judicial campaigns. A bill to create public financing for judicial elections has passed the Senate with bi-partisan majorities in each of the last three sessions. (Then-Sen. Barack Obama was the chief sponsor the first time it passed.) But House Speaker Michael Madigan never called the bill for a vote in the House. So it would seem the key issue for a study commission is to figure out what objections the House has to the bill. The study commission is supposed to report back on January 1, 2012 -- two and a half years from now. Will it really take that long to figure out what changes are needed to satisfy the House?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Calendar year cycles

Contribution limits always come with time limits. In federal elections, a contributor may give $2,400 to a candidate for each election, so that a contributor who maxed out before Election Day can give again after Election Day. HB 7 sets astronomically high limits on giving to campaigns, much higher than in federal elections. And it sets those limits by calendar year, rather than by election. This difference raises some legal and policy questions.

At least one court has declared that calendar year limits are unconstitutional. A federal appeals court ruled in SEIU v. Fair Elections Practice Commission (1992) that the State of California does not have a sufficient interest in calendar years to overcome a person's right to participate in the political process. Courts are divided on this; other courts have approved calendar year limits. But when setting limits, it is fair to ask why giving more than the amount in a given time frame should be prohibited. Both the amount and the time frame have to be justifiable, and it is not at all clear what is so magical about January 1, that limits should restart on that date.

There are also policy concerns. Our state elections include primaries, now in early February, and general elections, in early November. Setting limits by calendar year means that a donor who maxes in January, before the primary, cannot give again to that candidate until long after the general election.

Now, most incumbent legislators are not opposed in the primary, and about half are not opposed in either the primary or the general, so maybe they aren't so concerned about this issue. But how is it in the state's interest to say that if you give the max on December 31, you can give the max again the next day, but if you max out right before the primary, you cannot give again until after the general? How does that time-frame address the fact or appearance of corruption?

Too, setting limits by calendar year allows incumbents to get a leg up on fundraising. This is especially true for officials in four-year terms, who can take in a couple of calendar years’ worth of contributions before a challenger would even consider running for their seats. How is a challenger who sat out the first two years of a four-year term without raising any money to compete against an incumbent who holds regular golf outings?

The better time frame for all offices is to set limits by the election cycle.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Penalties for violations

Today, ICPR continues its series on the problems with HB 7, beyond the astronomical dollar limits. Earlier posts are here, here, and here.

Suppose you think the dollar amounts you are allowed to contribute in HB 7 are too low. (Stop laughing, this is a serious blog post!) If you wanted to give more money to a committee than HB 7 would let you, what do you do? Let's consider the consequences of violating HB 7.

The penalty section in HB 7 is here (it starts on page 42 of HB 7):

18 (h) Contributions or transfers in violation of this
19 Section. A political committee that receives a contribution or
20 transfer in violation of this Section shall dispose of the
21 contribution or transfer by returning the contribution or
22 transfer, or an amount equal to the contribution or transfer,
23 to the contributor or transferor or donating the contribution
24 or transfer, or an amount equal to the contribution or
25 transfer, to a charity. A contribution or transfer received in
26 violation of this Section that is not disposed of as provided
1 in this subsection within 30 days after its receipt shall
2 escheat to the General Revenue Fund.

That's it. The committee would have 30 days to give the money back, or the state could lay claim to it. Alternately, the committee could give an equal amount to charity within 30 days. The contributor pays no penalty, even if the contribution was knowingly and intentionally excessive. And other than the loss of the excess amount, the committee pays no penalty, even if the committee plotted and planned with the contributor to violate the law.

So what do you do if you need cash for that final push before Election Day? ICPR would never counsel anyone to break the law. But, strictly hypothetically, what if someone did break the law? Here's what happens: If the candidate wins, the committee would have a few weeks to raise enough money from other donors to refund the excess to those who gave illegal contributions, or make a donation to charity. And winning candidates usually have a comparatively easy time raising money from new donors; from a contributor's point of view, the candidate's a sure thing. And if the candidate loses? So what if the state may lay claim to the money; if the committee is broke, there's no money for the state to seize. Dissolve the committee, and there will be no continuing obligations to worry about.

Real reform laws need real teeth. The penalties section in HB 7 needs to be improved.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A victory for reform: Freedom of Information Act improvements signed into law

The state law intended to guarantee Illinoisans access to government records got a much-needed overhaul today, when Gov. Patrick Quinn signed a bill strengthening the law’s enforcement provisions.

The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, is supposed to ensure taxpayers have access to government records. But the law is too-often not followed or altogether ignored, preventing Illinoisans from gathering information about their governments’ work.

Numerous reform groups, including ICPR and the Illinois Reform Commission, worked with Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office this winter and spring to draft a rewrite of the existing FOIA. On Monday, Quinn signed into law the group’s work-product, Senate Bill 189.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2010, makes a number of critical improvements to FOIA and its partner, the Open Meetings Act. Among them:

- Shortens the amount of time public bodies have to respond to FOIA requests to five business days from the current seven-day allowance. The legislation also shortens the extension public bodies can grant themselves to five days from the current seven.

- Makes permanent the position of Public Access Counselor, or PAC, within the Attorney General’s office, and grants the counselor power to help resolve FOIA disputes. The PAC will have the power to issue both advisory and binding opinions as to whether requested records are public.

- Mandates that courts award attorneys’ fees to records-requestors who successfully sue for access to open records after illegally being denied access to them. The current law gives judges discretion to award attorneys' fees, which means that people who take their records requests to court -- and win -- might be left to foot their attorneys' bill.

- Requires designated government employees to complete annual FOIA and Open Meetings Act training to educate them about state law and help ensure compliance.

- Strengthens enforcement provisions by allowing courts to impose civil penalties for public bodies that intentionally disregard the law.

You can check out the text of the new law here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Constituent Services

Today, ICPR continues its series on the problems with HB 7, beyond the astronomical dollar limits. Previous posts are here and here.

HB 7 creates a wholly new type of committee, one dedicated to "constituent services" -- a new type that's ripe for abuse. It's true that for many years, public officials have used personal funds or campaign contributions to supplement the public funding allocated to their district offices. While the proper solution to underfunded district offices is to increase the public allocation, the use of a small portion of campaign funds has become a normal practice in Illinois.

HB 7 institutionalizes this practice by creating new committees dedicated to supplementing the district office allocation. But it raises very troubling questions. Will incumbents be able to use their constituent services committees to produce and distribute mailers and hold public events? It will be difficult if not impossible to determine when such activities are political (aimed at voters in the district), as compared to expenditures that are (as HB 7 states) “related to constituent services and the maintenance of the official’s public office” as these are aimed at the exact same people, and may occur at the exact same time. Note that there are none of the restrictions on Constituent Services Committees that apply to mailings on behalf of legislators by the Legislative Printing Unit, for instance.

Furthermore, would donors be able to contribute money to an official’s constituent service committee at the same time that they lobby them? Session day fundraisers have been banned for over a decade. The law now bars legislators from holding "fundraising functions" on session days. But a separate bill, SB 54, makes a change to the section of the 2003 Ethics Act regarding session day fundraisers, inserting the word "political" before the phrase "fundraising functions" (this change is on page 18 of SB 54):

1 (5 ILCS 430/5-40)
2 Sec. 5-40. Fundraising in Sangamon County. Except as
3 provided in this Section, any executive branch constitutional
4 officer, any candidate for an executive branch constitutional
5 office, any member of the General Assembly, any candidate for
6 the General Assembly, any political caucus of the General
7 Assembly, or any political committee on behalf of any of the
8 foregoing may not hold a political fundraising function in
9 Sangamon County on any day the legislature is in session (i)
10 during the period beginning February 1 and ending on the later
11 of the actual adjournment dates of either house of the spring
12 session and (ii) during fall veto session. For purposes of this
13 Section, the legislature is not considered to be in session on
14 a day that is solely a perfunctory session day or on a day when
15 only a committee is meeting.

On its face, this change would seem to allow non-political fundraising. Perhaps the intent is merely to let legislators sponsor events for groups like United Way or the Cancer Society. But coupled with the creation of Constituent Services Committees, which are by intention for non-political purposes, this provision is very disturbing. Could a Constituent Services Committee hold a session day funder? The law doesn't say, and where the law is silent, loopholes are formed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A look at what's on the the governor's desk

A bunch of bills dealing with the reform agenda were sent to the governor's desk earlier this year. Where are they now, and what does the future hold? Let's take them in alphabetical and numerical order:

HB 7, relating to campaign finance, was sent to the governor on June 30. The governor has until Saturday, August 29 to take action.

HB 35, creating an "accountability portal" on the Internet with state expenditure and salary information, was signed into law on Tuesday, August 11. It's PA 06-225.

HB 267, which allows grace period voter registration as late as 7 days prior to an election (now, grace period registration ends 14 days prior), was sent to the governor on June 17. The governor has until Sunday, August 16 to take action.

HB 723, which imposes petition signature requirements on candidates nominated for office after a primary election, was sent to the governor on June 26. The governor has until Tuesday, August 25 to take action.

SB 51, which makes improvements to the procurement code, was sent to the governor on June 19. The governor has until Tuesday, August 18 to take action.

SB 54, which changes the 2003 Ethics Act and the Lobbyist Registration Act, among other things, was sent to the governor on June 19. The governor has until Tuesday, August 18 to take action.

SB 189, which makes improvements to the Freedom of Information Act, was sent to the governor on June 26. The governor has until Tuesday, August 25 to take action.

SB 1592, which allows for the late filing of Statements of Economic Interest when the filer has suffered a "serious and catastrophic" injury or is serving in the military, was sent to the governor on June 18. The governor has until Monday, August 16 to take action.

(Today we're taking a break from our litany of concerns about HB 7. That analysis will resume tomorrow)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Defining when a committee "receives" a contribution

Today, ICPR continues its series on the problems with HB 7, beyond the astronomical dollar limits. Previous posts are here.

In revisions to the Election Code, HB 7 changes the definition of when a committee "receives" a contribution. The date of receipt determines when a committee must report a contribution, and is especially important during the A-1 reporting period: the final 30 days before an election, when committees are required to report contributions over $500 within two working days of receipt. The date of receipt also becomes a factor around the end of the regular reporting period, in determining when the public is told of a contribution.

Current law uses the word "receipt" but does not define it in statute, relying instead on the common sense of the word. The State Board of Elections has defined the word in regulation, relying again on the common sense meaning of the term.

HB 7 changes the definition to when the "candidate or campaign treasurer" has "actual personal physical possession of the contribution." This greatly narrows the definition in ways that are deeply problematic. When, for instance, would the candidate or treasurer have "actual personal physical possession" of an electronic funds transfer? An on-line contribution? An inter-bank exchange?

But there are deeper problems, and an example will illustrate: In 2006, Todd Stroger, then a candidate for Cook County Board President, missed statutory deadlines to make public reports of more than $250,000 in contributions received in the final weeks before the election. He later claimed that the contributions had been “received” by the committee but were being vetted, and so were not “received” by the officers of the committee. After much haggling, the State Board of Elections disagreed with Stroger's interpretation. Under current law, he was found to have violated the Election Code and was fined just over $25,000. This provision in HB 7 would validate his failure to disclose.

With this change, a committee could receive a contribution without triggering reporting requirements. Until the candidate or treasurer of the committee directed a staff person to hand the contribution to the treasurer or candidate, creating the necessary “actual personal physical possession,” there might be no obligation to report a contribution. There is nothing to require a committee to disclose once a staff person has told the candidate or treasurer of the receipt, so long as the staffer does not deliver "actual personal physical possession" of the contribution. The chair of the committee or other staff could have "actual personal physical possession" of a contribution indefinitely without ever triggering disclosure. Contributions received by the committee before Election Day could, under this proposal, be held until after the voting is over, then delivered to the treasurer, deposited, and used to pay debts incurred before Election Day. This could postpone disclosure for months, completely defeating the purpose of A1 reports.

This is a huge step backward, and one of several reasons why ICPR believes that HB 7 is worse than nothing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Ballot Questions

HB 7, the campaign finance measure, has garnered a lot of media attention, none of it positive. (see, for instance, today's editorial in the Daily Herald). The bill was sent to Gov. Quinn on June 30, and he has until later this month to decide whether to sign it, veto it, recommend changes with an amendatory veto, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Our opposition to HB 7 is well known. Yes, we object to the provisions that would allow for astronomically high contributions. Where federal law allows contributions of $2,400 for people and $5,000 from political committees each election, HB 7 allows contributions of up to $10,000 from people and $90,000 from committees each calendar year. But that is far from the only flawed section of the bill. Over the next few days, we intend to outline our concerns with the non-limit parts of the bill. Some of these reflect ambiguous drafting. Some reflect intentional changes to the statute that will have adverse consequences. In the next few days, we'll focus on different parts of HB 7, other than the astronomical dollar amounts, in order to explain our concerns.

Start with how HB 7 treats ballot questions. HB 7 defines “single candidate committee” (on page 39 of the bill) as:

4 "Single-candidate committee" means a political
5 committee organized to support or oppose the election of a
6 single, specific candidate or public official or to support
7 or oppose one or more questions of public policy. (emphasis added)

The term "single candidate committee" is a misnomer, as the definition also encompasses committees formed to support or oppose ballot questions. It has been long established that governments can require financial disclosure as it relates to these questions of public policy, but cannot impose limits. At least since Buckley v Valeo, the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling on campaign finance, courts have held that there is no public interest in limiting giving to ballot question committees.

That's because the purpose of contribution limits is to address the fact or appearance of corruption and ballot questions are not "corruptible," or even sentient. Ballot questions do not exercise judgment or discretion. They pass or fail, and then it is up to other officials to implement them. Including ballot questions in the definition of a "single candidate committee" may be sloppy drafting or careless thinking but it is also certainly an invitation to a legal challenge.

In the next few days, we'll post concerns with other portions of the bill.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fix FOIA Now

Newspapers around the state have been running editorials in favor of SB 189, the Freedom of Information Act reform bill. Saying that newspapers strongly support FOIA is probably akin to a dog bites man story. As is saying that ICPR also strongly supports the bill.

But today's Daily Herald editorial gave some of the reasons why they support the bill, and we at ICPR can identify with these problems:

Our reporters battled some bureaucrats for months when we tried to learn about red-light cameras for our recent "Seeing Red" investigative series. One village clerk said we didn't need the documents because others had reported on the cameras. Another village official called the request a waste of time.

In all, it took more than two months to obtain documents about a government program operating all over the region. It should take seven days under the existing loophole-ridden law.

As part of our review of lobbying by units of government, we at ICPR send out hundreds of FOIA requests each year. (here's a PDF of our most recent report) Most units respond promptly, and we commend them for that. After all that's what the law requires. But what we cannot understand is why so many units of government fail to respond in a timely fashion; and sometimes, not at all.

It's not just small governments that violate the law (thinking here of the Village of Bellwood, which received our letter 11 months ago and still has not responded, despite phone calls, follow-up letters and an in-person site visit). The City of Chicago and Cook County have both taken months to respond in each of the last two years. Chicago and Cook have law departments bigger than most law firms; they ought to know what the law requires.

Every time we do the report, there are a dozen or more units that ignore our requests. It is not practical for us to sue each and every unit that does not respond in a timely manner. Should it be necessary that we do so?

Of course not. But to make the law work as it was intended, what is necessary is that Gov. Quinn sign SB 189. We urge him to sign SB 189 pronto.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Good, Clean Campaign

Although it's been barely 200 days since the legislature was sworn in, this week marked the start of candidate petition season. When candidates turn in their petitions around Halloween, election authorities will ask them to submit a bunch of other papers as well, including, Statements of Economic Interest, political fundraising disclosures, and the Code of Fair Campaign Practices.

ICPR has long been a supporter of the Code. It's a little thing, voluntary and non-binding, but the Code is the only provision in Illinois law written explicitly and solely to encourage good behavior on the campaign trail. For years, we've mailed copies to all candidates for statewide and legislative office, urging them to sign the Code and abide by its principles. While a handful of candidates regularly submit the Code with their petitions, I'm always heartened to see how many ultimately do signal their agreement. It's a small step candidates can take to aver their intentions to run campaigns everyone can be proud of.

Reporter Sam Hudzik of WBEZ/Chicago Public Radio ran a story today on the Code. I'm sure ICPR will tout the Code to candidates in November, once all the petitions have been filed. But kudos to WBEZ for starting a conversation about it now, at the beginning of what will be a long political process.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Problems with Proposed Lobbying Changes

One of the hit-or-miss bills that passed the General Assembly this year was SB 54, which, among other things, made substantial changes to the Lobbyist Registration Act (LRA). The genesis of the LRA portion of the bill is plainly found in HB 736, which ICPR supported, but SB 54 differs in some key ways.

One difference is the disclosure of lobbyist costs, and several recent news stories make clear how the differences between HB 736, which did not pass the GA, and SB 54, which did, will impact public policy discussion. In one news story, the federal government gave billions to the financial services industry, and the industry responded by spending dramatically more on lobbying. In another news story, Congress took up legislation to regulate student loans, and lo and behold, the industry hired a bunch of lobbyists to fight the proposals. A third national news story compares the progress of the debate over health care reform with spending by health care interests (noting, also, that health care interests combine to spend more on lobbying at the federal level than any other sector).

All of these stories are built around disclosure of lobbyist contracts. At the federal level, lobbyists are required to report how much they bill their clients. Indeed, spending on lobbying is often in the same ballpark as spending on elections. Interest groups that spend millions on campaign contributions to candidates often spend similar amounts to hire lobbyists to influence elected officials. Just as disclosure of campaign finance is in the public interest, so too is it in the public interest to let the public know how much an interest group is spending to influence legislation.

The Illinois General Assembly has yet to go that far in statute. HB 736, the bill that did not pass, would have mandated disclosure of lobbying costs, but SB 54 did not include that provision. This was a missed opportunity to help the public better understand how particular interests are trying to sway the General Assembly.

Another provision in SB 54 that did not come from HB 736 raises the registration fee for lobbyists. And the increase is a whopper. Currently, most lobbyists pay $350 per lobbyist per year to register with the Secretary of State (non-profits, including ICPR, pay $150 per lobbyist per year). SB 54 raises that fee for all lobbyists, including non-profits, to $1,000. For most lobbyists, it's a steep increase; for non-profits, it's a huge added cost.

The increase is particularly steep because of the way that lobbying is defined. Generally, anyone who communicates with officials to influence legislative, executive, or administrative actions is a lobbyist. There are exceptions, of course (it's statute, after all) but broadly, once you are paid or reimbursed $500 for such communication, you become a lobbyist and must register. Which is to say, once you are paid or reimbursed $500, you must pay $1,000 to register. And the entity that paid or reimbursed you the $500 must also pay $1,000 to register. That's $2,000 in registration fees for $500 in reimbursements. Large lobbying firms will likely be able to absorb these costs, but smaller groups, especially non-profits, will have a harder time.

SB 54 increases the registration fee in order to cover additional administrative costs, but some of the cost of registration (the $200 difference between the for-profit and non-profit rate) goes into the General Revenue Fund. It seems that the state is still using lobbyist registration fees to produce income for the General Revenue Fund.

Both of these changes are unfortunate components of the new Lobbyist Registration Act. Gov. Quinn, or the General Assembly, would do well to revisit them.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Picking the Pickers: Redistricting Update

Experts who testified at a Senate Redistricting Committee meeting this week didn’t paint a pretty picture about Illinois’ current redistricting process.

In fact, they described the process that produces new legislative district maps every 10 years as downright awful.

In Illinois, the redistricting process is dominated by lawmakers: The state Constitution gives the entire General Assembly the first crack at drawing the boundaries for state legislative districts. But if lawmakers can’t reach an agreement, the Republican and Democratic leaders in each chamber get to appoint one citizen and one lawmaker, each, to a special eight-member Legislative Redistricting Commission. If that panel can’t agree on a map, either, the redistricting process gets thrown into the hands of one randomly chosen ninth member of the commission.

During each redistricting process over the last three decades, lawmakers have butted heads over the map – ultimately going to the “tiebreaker round,” and throwing the process into the hands of one party.

As the Daily Herald editorial board notes today, experts have acknowledged allowing one party to control the state’s map is a bad way to operate. Redistricting greatly impacts future elections because it determines which residents can vote for which representatives. Left in the hands of one party, redistricting can – and has – produced districts that greatly favor candidates of that party.

Now, in advance of the 2011 redistricting process that will follow next year’s Census, the Illinois Senate is hosting once-a-month committee hearings around the state about redistricting.

Former State Senator and Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, drawing from her experience as a delegate to the 1970 Constitutional Convention that produced the current redistricting process, explained that the tiebreaker option was supposed to be, in essence, the “nuclear option.” The thought of winner-take-all was supposed to encourage political parties to work together, for fear that they would lose the tiebreaker. There was also some hope among the delegates that the ninth member would be a "negotiator" or moderating influence, not someone who would side with one party against the other.

But, that wasn’t the case in 1981, nor 1991, nor 2001. And there’s no reason to think 2011 will be any different – unless the system is changed.

Roosevelt University Political Science Professor Paul Green said that the tiebreaker provision has made redistricting a partisan answer to a question that is not supposed to be partisan.

Atlhough Green and Netsch were asked to testify about the history of redistricting in Illinois, both said that the system must be changed to allow people who aren’t lawmakers or partisan agents to have a role in the process.

Green also noted what amounts to the elephant in the redistricting committee room: Although many members of the General Assembly have voiced concerns about the current redistricting process, few – if any – are willing to be “political martyrs,” and sacrifice their own chance to be re-elected for the sake of reform.

That’s part of what makes redistricting reform in Illinois so challenging. Lawmakers historically have demonstrated reluctance to change the status quo. Even though – as Green aptly pointed out – that redistricting is largely to blame for Illinois’ woefully noncompetitive state legislative elections.

Illinois needs a better redistricting system. We need a system that ensures the districts that are created just two years from now foster active political discussion and elect lawmakers that are responsive to their voters. We need a system that ensures that the 177 members of the General Assembly look as much like the other 13 million residents of Illinois as possible.

Several plans to ameliorate the current system have already been drafted – including proposals from several lawmakers, the Illinois Reform Commission, and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

We hope the Illinois General Assembly gives these plans serious consideration, and creates a new process that is transparent and reflects the desires of the public. ICPR supports the principles recently adopted by Americans for Redistricting Reform.

The Senate Redistricting Committee is scheduled to next meet on Aug. 18 in Springfield. An audio recording of the hearings will be made available through the General Assembly's website.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Compare and Contrast

The big corruption story out of New Jersey last week sounds, in broad strokes, eerily familiar -- lots of people, in and out of government, in a state famous for corruption, rounded up on charges of cheating the public. I can't think of a public corruption case in Illinois involving religious leaders and kidney traffickers, but the point isn't to see which state is worse, but rather to ensure good government. Neither state is doing well on that score.

What struck me were the follow-up stories. From New Jersey came widespread condemnation of the alleged corruption. One story quoted Gov. Jon Corzine as saying, "The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated."

Compare that with the normal reaction from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley when corruption is found in his town. Rather than broadly condemning corruption, he has tended personalized the response, blaming "a few bad apples," or blaming the people who were convicted for “disgrac[ing their own] name.”

This focused response results in public messaging which is ambiguous at best, or tolerant at worst, as when Robert Sorich, head of Daley's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, was convicted in 2006, and Mayor Daley announced, "I am saddened by the verdict for these men and their families," while his brother and top political advisors feted Sorich with a fundraiser at a local Bridgeport church.

Clarity counts for a lot. Even, especially, from those in charge, in a position to set the tone by saying clearly and simply what's right and what's wrong.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

If only we didn't need FOIA

One of the most successful stories of the spring legislative session was the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform measure, SB 189, now on the governor's desk. The bill will go a long way to rebalancing the interests of the public in getting access to government records. The Northwest Herald recently wrote that Gov. Quinn "should sign the bill now and send a message that his administration is serious about improving public access to government information." We couldn't agree more.

A couple of recent stories show why a stronger FOIA is needed. These same stories also show how units of government can make FOIA a lot less necessary. In one, the Better Government Association announced a lawsuit against the Office of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger to compel production of phone records. In another, a suburban school district stopped making information packets available to the public in advance of board meetings. And while not strictly a third FOIA story, the Trib this morning wrote about a possible Open Meetings Act violation, where a member of a village council privately e-mailed other members about an upcoming vote.

Let's remember that the Freedom of Information Act is not the reason why the public deserves access to government records; it is only the means by which that access is guaranteed. The reason why is because it is our government, and we the public have a right to know what government is doing for us, to us, and in our name. FOIA and the Open Meetings Act are like umbrellas -- you want one when it rains, but you don't look forward to using one every day. Having a stronger FOIA will help people better understand what government is doing, but units of government could make that task even easier by being more open with all of their actions.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

D2 Day Interim Report

Last week we went out on a limb and predicted that today's papers would be full of stories about how much money candidates raised in the first six months of this year. And events have proven us correct. (Although, to be fair, we didn't go all that far from the tree trunk on that one.) Now that the reports are in, there are some interesting tidbits in the numbers. A few stragglers are yet to file, but here are a few observations:

* State Rep. Jack Franks raised more money than anyone. Most of it from relatives, but still, his $1.3M is more than any of the Four Tops, more than any sitting statewide official, more than any known challenger.

* The other surprising name on the list of top fundraisers is Sen. Dale Righter, who reported $353K in receipts; putting him comfortably in the Top Ten.

* State Rep. Julie Hamos is sitting on more money than the entire Democratic Party of Illinois. Combining her cash on hand with her investments, she's got $530K, while the venerable DPI reported $473K available. And she's not alone -- Sen. James DeLeo reports $703K, and Rep. Jay Hoffman has been sitting on a pile for years (it's now at $1.2M). Senate Democratic Leader James Clayborne reports $653K, all of it in cash.

We'll have more analysis in the weeks to come. Check back for more!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

De-rigging Redistricting

The Illinois Constitution requires the state to redraw its state legislative and Congressional district boundaries every 10 years, following the national census. This process, known as redistricting, greatly impacts future elections because it determines which voters will pick which representatives.

Ideally, districts will be drawn to maximize competitiveness, foster active political discussion and reflect the uniqueness of communities.

But practice hasn't live up to the ideal. Indeed, many have described redistricting as the process by which elected officials choose their constituents. In the hands of a skilled mapmaker, for example, districts can be drawn to favor one political party, thus allowing them to maintain control of the district and its representation in upcoming elections. Districts also can be drawn to protect incumbents from likely challengers, or crafted so that two incumbents are put in the same district and forced to either drop out or run against each other.

The redistricting process outlined by the Illinois Constitution calls for the General Assembly to draw the state's legislative district boundaries. If legislators fail to reach agreement, then a Legislative Redistricting Commission is convened, with 8 members dived evenly between Republicans and Democrats. If that, too, fails, a "tiebreaker" of sorts goes into effect -- and one new member of the Commission, either a Republican or a Democrat, is chosen at random and gets the final say on what Illinois' districts will be for the next 10 years.

In each of the last three remaps, not only has the legislative process failed, but the 8-member Commission also failed, so the tie-breaker delivered control of the process into one party's hands. In each instance, the party that won the tiebreaker created districts which greatly favored their party's candidates, giving them an incalculable advantage in elections for the Illinois House and Senate for the ensuing decade.

There has been broad acknowledgement that Illinois' redistricting process leaves much to be desired. While it seems all would agree that Illinois needs a system which ensures all residents receive fair and equal representation, there is not a consensus on how to redesign the current system or even over whether changes need to be focused on the Constitution or on practices within the legislature. Many, particularly Democrats, are hopeful that the legislature will write a map in 2011 without convening a Commission, despite the odds.

The Illinois Senate has formed a Redistricting Committee, which is scheduled to hold four meetings this summer to hear testimony on redistricting. The first meeting is tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 22, at the Thompson Center, 16th floor, in Chicago. Dawn Clark Netsch, Northwestern University law professor and ICPR board member, and Paul Green of Roosevelt University are among those scheduled to testify.

If you're in the Chicago area, we encourage you to attend. Future meetings of the Committee are planned for Peoria (August 19), Carbondale (September 16), and Springfield (October 14); for updates and to confirm times and locations, go here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Disclosure Update

One week from today the newspapers will be full of stories about how much money candidates have raised in the last six months. That's because one week from yesterday is the deadline for filing semi-annual D2 disclosure reports with the State Board of Elections.

Campaign finance is one form of disclosure that lets the public know about potential (and actual) conflicts of interest that elected officials may have. The other big disclosure form required of office holders is the Statement of Economic Interest. That was due to be filed with the Secretary of State by May 1. The SoS Index Division then scans the documents into PDF format and posts them to the web. As of today, over two months later, most (but, as of yesterday, not all) current legislators' forms are posted. Get their forms here.

Not posted, and not even filed, are forms from candidates for office who are not otherwise required to file. Candidates running in the 2010 elections won't have to file until they submit their petitions (they have to submit the receipt for the SEI along with their petitions). And what's more, they won't have to file again unless they win. In a curious loophole that benefits challengers over incumbents, they do not have to file updates next May 1. So check back for more Statements of Economic Interest, and don't forget D2s next week.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Congratulations, Rep. Mike Fortner

The Ohio Redistricting Competition announced the winners of their contest to develop a new method of drawing district boundaries, and Illinois State Rep. Mike Fortner is one of three winners.

The Competition, sponsored by the Ohio Secretary of State's office and several civic organizations, sought new processes for creating fair legislative boundaries, aimed to satisfy these criteria: Compactness, Communities of Interest, Competitiveness., and Representational Fairness.

Click here for more details.

Monday, June 08, 2009

ICPR Says Court Ruling Shows Need for Public Financing

Today in a 5-4 ruling in Caperton v. Massey, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the harmful effects large campaign contributions have in the judicial system, when it ruled Monday that elected judges must recuse themselves from cases where outsized contributions they received can create the appearance of bias.

This decision shows that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that outsized campaign contributions and special interest money can create the appearance of bias in the judicial system.

“The Caperton case is about the conflict of interest that arises when judicial candidates benefit from large campaign contributions and special interest group spending,” said Cynthia Canary, the executive director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “Every person or group which comes before a court deserves a fair and impartial judiciary, and that’s endangered when special interest groups spend huge amounts of money to influence judicial campaigns.”

Caperton v. Massey centers around a $50-million verdict against Massey Energy Co. , which the coal company appealed.

A the same time that Massey was appealing the verdict against it, Massey's Chief Executive spent $3 million in personal funds to support a West Virginia State Supreme Court candidate, Brent Benjamin, who was challenging an incumbent member of the Court. That $3 million was more than the total amount spent by all other Benjamin supporters.

After winning election to the state Supreme Court, Justice Benjamin refused to recuse himself from deciding the appeal involving the verdict against Massey. Benjamin joined a 3-2 majority to overturn the verdict against his campaign’s biggest financial supporter.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday ruling said that Benjamin should not have participated in that ruling.

ICPR joined a national coalition of concerned groups, including Justice At Stake, Appleseed, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, in an amicus curiae brief asserting that Benjamin should not have participated in the decision involving Massey.

The problematic situation outlined in Caperton v. Massey is not unexpected nor unfamiliar in Illinois. Across the country, the amount of money special interest groups are pouring into judicial campaigns is increasing, and Illinois has been no exception.

States’ Supreme Court candidates have raised more than $168 million in campaign contributions between 2000 and 2007, according to an analysis by Justice At Stake.

In 2004, Illinois served as host to the most expensive state Supreme Court campaign in history, when groups spent a combined $9.3 million in the 5th Judicial District. Two years later, an Illinois Appellate Court campaign broke state records when parties spent a jaw-dropping $3.35 million on the campaign.

These staggering figures show why Illinois must create a judicial public financing system, Canary said.

“Judicial public financing remains the best way to avoid the question of bias altogether, because it allows candidates to run for office without relying on contributions from special interest groups.”

ICPR supports SB 2144/HB 2631, a bill that would create a judicial public financing system in Illinois. Judicial public financing passed the Illinois Senate in each of the last three legislative sessions, but has never been called for a vote in the House.

Instead of creating a judicial public financing system, the General Assembly this year established a task force to study the issue, leaving Illinois’ courts open to abuse by special interest groups for the foreseeable future. The task force is scheduled to report to the governor in 2012.

With the nation’s highest court now acknowledging the conflict that campaign contributions can have on the courts, ICPR urges the General Assembly to take more immediate action on judicial public financing.

Blago Bio

Elizabeth Brackett's recent book on Rod Blagojevich's time as Governor, "Pay to Play -- How Rod Blagojevich Turned Political Corruption Into a National Sideshow," was the subject of a panel at the Printers Row Lit Fest over the weekend. Panel leader Eric Zorn has posted an mp3 of his conversation with Brackett on his blog. Give it a listen; it's 45 minutes well spent.

Friday, May 29, 2009



Over the objections of reform advocates throughout the state, the Illinois Senate on Thursday approved a bill (HOUSE BILL 7) to establish contribution limits but with so many loopholes that the legislation is "limits" in name only.

Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), issued the following statement:

“The disappointing Senate action should not be rubberstamped by the House,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). “This phony reform should be blocked, and reform-minded legislators should insist on filling the loopholes created by the Senate.”

ICPR and the CHANGE Illinois! coalition have advocated real reform modeled after the federal system of campaign limits -- $2,400 limit on individual contributions, $5,000 limit on PAC, business and union contributions and a $30,000 limit on contribution from legislative leadership PACs to legislative candidates.


NO LIMIT ON IN-KIND CONTRIBUTIONS: Not only are the dollar amounts of the limits high but there are no limits on "in-kind" contributions from one candidate's committee to another. That means legislative leaders could use campaign funds to hire staff, pay for commercials and send direct mail on behalf of candidates. None of those would be covered by a contribution limit. It has the potential to exempt millions of dollars from the limits.

ANNUAL (CALENDAR YEAR) vs. ELECTION CYCLE LIMITS: Because the federal system uses election cycles of primary and general elections, officeholders and challengers are treated the same. But the Senate bill would set limits -- $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a PAC, business or union -- on a calendar year basis. That protects incumbents. For example, using the federal system, a governor and challenger could each get no more than two maximum contributions in a four-year period. But under the calendar year system, sitting governors could collect the maximum level in each of the governor's four years in office. Because challengers usually don't gear up for campaigning and fundraising until about two years before the election, a challenger could collect the limit from a contributor only twice before the general election. That's a potential 2-to-1 advantage for an incumbent.

TRANSFERS FROM LEADERS' (AND OTHERS') COMMITTEES: Any candidate for any office in Illinois could transfer up to $90,000 in cash to another candidate's committee. There are so many potential transfers of funds from committee to committee that it would be easy for legislative leaders to maneuver millions of dollars to targeted candidates. The end result would be the same as exists today.

ENFORCEMENT: Enforcement of campaign finance laws would remain extremely weak in Illinois. We had recommended the State Board of Elections be directed to make random audits of campaign committees to determine whether they were disclosing the contributions and expenditures required by law. The Senate bill would only give the State Board of Elections the ability to order an audit when a committee failed to file a quarterly report two times in a calendar year.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Real, Meaningful Contribution Limits

Newspapers around the state have reviewed the Senate Democrats' campaign reform proposals, and found nothing to like. Setting caps that are as much as 6 times what the federal limits are and allowing unfettered transfers from parties and caucuses is not reform. But don't take it from us. The Daily Herald calls their ideas "practically meaningless." The Sun-Times calls it a "ruse." The Peoria Journal Star says it's "a deal breaker." And the Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus say "a better proposal is HB 24/SB 1768." Read for youself:

The Daily Herald (May 22, 2009) -- "The anti-corruption groups support donation limits per election cycle of $2,400 from individuals. That means that in a four-year Senate term, someone could give a Senate candidate a total of $4,800 for the primary and general elections. But the Senate plan just unveiled would allow for $10,000 donations every calendar year, or a total of $40,000 to a candidate in a four-year term. Even more alarming, Harmon's plan, so far, has no limit whatsoever on the contributions legislative leaders can make to candidates. That key lack of a limit on leadership contributions makes the Senate plan to cap campaign contributions practically meaningless."

The Peoria Journal Star (May 22, 2009) -- "But ultimately any progress here is undone with no ceilings being imposed on the largesse of legislative leaders, and might be a step backward. If you believe as we do that the speaker of the House and the Senate president have too much muscle now, this arguably would give them more, making rank-and-file members even more dependent on them while tying up the wallets of others. It's tantamount to no reform at all; as such, a deal-breaker."

The Moline Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus (May 21, 2009) -- "To discourage corruption and loosen the four tops" stranglehold, we urge leadership to call for and lawmakers to demand new limits on government corruption with a 'yes' vote on HB24 and SB1768."

The Chicago Sun-Times (May 22, 2009) -- "Madigan, Cullerton, et al, have decided they might be willing to enact campaign contribution limits on individuals, businesses and unions -- but limits that are so high and generous they would be virtually meaningless. And, of course, Madigan, Cullerton, et al, show absolutely no willingness to limit their own ability to shower money on their fellow politicians."

ICPR agrees with these newspapers. Limits must be meaningful and comprehensive. Setting limits that are too high will do nothing to prevent officials from laundering payoffs through their campaign funds -- or from looking like that's what they are doing. Allowing unlimited transfers from parties and caucuses turns them into washing machines for contributors who have maxed out their donations to particular officials. Grousing and grumbling aside, it works at the federal level. It's time Illinois joined the modern world.

If you agree, speak up! Contact your elected representative by calling 1-800-719-3020. Send them an e-mail by going here. Scheduled adjournment is barely a week away. Now is the time to be heard.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CHANGE Illinois! Tells General Assembly Not To Play Games

Campaign Contribution Limits Must Cover Legislative Leaders

The CHANGE Illinois! coalition on Wednesday called on legislators to enact meaningful limits on campaign contributions from everyone, including political action committees controlled by the four legislative leaders.

“Illinois’ wide open campaign finance system allows large contributors to drown out the voices of everyday Illinoisans and is part of the reason Illinois has a much deserved reputation for corruption in government,” said Peter Bensinger, former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and a co-chair of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “With one former governor in federal prison and another facing an array of deplorable charges, voters are fed up and weary of the foot-dragging in the General Assembly.

“We call on legislators to enact meaningful reform,” he continued. “Limits must be set on how much money the four legislative leaders can collect and pass on to candidates of their choice. These war chests subvert the will of individual voters. Without limits on transfers, Illinois won't have real reform.”

The top priority of members of CHANGE Illinois! is the establishment of campaign contribution limits similar to the federal system with a $2,400 limit on contributions by individuals, $5,000 limit on contributions by political action committees, and a maximum $30,000 limit on transfers from legislative leadership committees to legislative candidates. The CHANGE Illinois! proposal is nearly identical to the proposal advocated by the Illinois Reform Commission, an independent group created by Gov. Pat Quinn and chaired by Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor.

At a press conference Wednesday, Collins and other IRC members joined with CHANGE Illinois! in an urgent call for General Assembly approval of meaningful campaign contribution limits, and leaders of CHANGE Illinois! commended Collins and the IRC for its efforts on behalf of reform.

“With less than two weeks left in the spring legislative session, there has been some talk about limiting campaign contributions, but there hasn’t been any action,” said Deborah Harrington, President of the Woods Fund of Chicago and a co-chair of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “There have been discussions in committee rooms and hallways, but it is not clear whether legislators will even take a vote on this important reform.”

“Illinois is in the spotlight, and the world is watching to see whether we will change the rules that have contributed to the corruption that has embarrassed this state,” said George Ranney, President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020 and a co-chair of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “Comprehensive limits on contributions, combined with more frequent public reporting of contributions and strengthened oversight of campaign finance laws, would put Illinois on the road to real reform.”

Launched in late February, CHANGE Illinois! is a coalition of civic, business, labor, professional, inter-faith, non-profit and philanthropic organizations aligned to bring government integrity to Illinois.

A list of members and additional information is available at

Monday, May 04, 2009

We need reform like yesterday's editorials

Anybody who's ever run for office will tell you that newspaper editorials don't vote; editorial writers, maybe, editorial readers, maybe, but editorials themselves represent only one thoughtful opinion. But with so many thoughtful pieces reaching the same conclusion, you'd think that conclusion had some merit:

This morning's New York Times expressed surprise that "Illinois’s statehouse bosses are hemming and hawing" about the prospects for reform and urged votes on the recommendations of the Illinois Reform Commission

The Chicago Tribune blasts the legislature for doing so little so many months after the Blagojevich arrest (and separately blasts Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie for making reform into a partisan issue)

If you agree with these editorials, you can do something the newspapers cannot: You can speak as a constituent to your elected official.

ICPR offers three ways to help you do this. Visitors to our website can now enter their address and instantly send e-mail to their legislators. We launch the feature with a letter on a topic near and dear to our hearts -- campaign finance reform -- and plan to add new letters in the weeks ahead. Customize the letter all you want; speak your mind. Your concerns will be delivered directly to your legislators!

Our website also directs visitors to a toll-free number (800-719-3020) to call your legislators, and to a petition. So many ways to make sure your representatives know what views you want them to represent!

Thursday, April 09, 2009


Voters, Public join Civic, Business, Religious & Non-Profit Groups in Chicago to CHANGE Illinois!

Mere steps from indicted former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s office, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Chicago today with a simple message: “We’ve had enough!” Voters joined with civic and business leaders, religious and non-profit groups for a public CHANGE Illinois! rally calling for an end to corruption in Illinois politics.

“Corruption in Illinois has turned us from the land of Lincoln to a national laughingstock,” said Rev. Patricia Watkins, Executive Director of Target Area Development Corp. “We need to take special interest money out of Illinois politics – the people deserve to get their voices back.”

The rally, organized by CHANGE Illinois!, focused on the need to clean up Illinois politics now. Rally speakers drove home the need for political reform and urged the General Assembly to take action, including: Rev. Patricia Watkins, Executive Director of TARGET Area Development Corp.; Rami Nashashibi, Inner City Muslim Action Network, Executive Director; Merri Dee, AARP Illinois State President; Peter Bensinger, Chicago business leader and former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Enlace Chicago, Executive Director; and Rev. Philip Blackwell, Senior Minister of First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple.

“On behalf of AARP’s nearly 2 million in Illinois, I can say we’re tired of politics as usual standing in the way of progress as it should be,” said Merri Dee, State President for AARP. “The people of Illinois need to stand up and demand that things change.”

CHANGE Illinois! has launched a statewide campaign to end the culture of corruption in Illinois politics. The coalition’s first priority is take large donations out of Illinois campaign through enacting strict campaign contribution limits. The coalition has been taking the message to communities across the state, setting up the CHANGE Illinois! Hotline (1-800-719-3020) to connect voters to their state lawmakers to urge them to help put an end to pay-to-play politics. Illinois is one of only four states with no limits on political campaign contributions.

“Unless people throughout Illinois contact their legislators and demand change, we’re going to see even more waste and corruption in our government,” Peter Bensinger, Co-Chair of CHANGE Illinois!, said. “If we can’t change the way government does business in Illinois, corporate leaders are going to think twice about doing business here.”

Since 1970, over 1000 Illinois public officials have been convicted of corruption, including 19 judges (serving half the state’s population), 30 Chicago Alderman, two Governors with a third now indicted and a former State Attorney General --- one conviction every other week.

For more information about the CHANGE Illinois! The Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics:

Friday, April 03, 2009

Now only 4 states have unregulated campaign finance systems

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson yesterday signed into law a bill creating campaign contribution limits. They get reform. Now there are 46 states that regulate campaign contributions, and just 4 that are wide open.

And what did Illinois get yesterday? More proof that we need reform.

If you're fed up with business as usual, if the indictment of Rod Blagojevich reads like a rehash of old news, if you're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, then here's what you can do right now to make reform happen:

* Call 1-800-719-3020. This hotline, offered by CHANGE Illinois, will patch you through to your legislator's office, where you can voice your demand for reform of Illinois' political culture.

* Make plans to attend the rally at the James R. Thompson Center this Thursday, April 9 at 10 am.