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.

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