Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kudos on a Couple of Stories

We can't let another day go by without noting the legwork that Daily Herald reporter James Fuller and Crain's columnist Greg Hinz put in on stories about campaign giving to county officials.

Connecting the dots between vendors and candidates is never easy. Finding the links between contributions and contracts takes a lot of digging, a bit of serendipity, and a ton of support from people who know the local terrain. For state-level contracts, this job is made much easier by the Comptroller's Open Book website, but for local units of government, writing stories like these takes an effort. We commend Fuller and Hinz for their efforts..

Fuller's piece was on campaign giving in Kane County. He identified over three dozen entities that gave more than $43K in total to a member of the Kane County Board. All of them were contractors in Kane County, which has no rules prohibiting such contributions despite the appearance of pay to play. Whether these contributions were, in fact, improper depends on why they were made, but until somebody connects those dots, it's hard even to ask the question.

We also want to recognize Crain's reporter Greg Hinz, for staying on top of contributions from contractors that appear to have been funneled to Cook County Commissioner Joseph Moreno. Cook County forbids contractors to make large contributions directly to Cook County Board members, and state law forbids disguising the source of campaign funds. Hinz followed a political group's fundraiser in honor of Moreno and the ensuing contributions from contractors to that group, which appears to have passed the money on Moreno's fund.

Pay-to-play is tricky to prove. It goes in part to the intent of the contributor, and while disclosure rules detail who gave how much to whom and when, they do not cover the why of that transaction. Reporters like Fuller and Hinz have provided a context in which contributions can be better understood.

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