Monday, November 22, 2010

Petition Follies, 2011

Today is the last day for candidates to file their nominating petitions for municipal office, including the 2011 Chicago elections. But we won't know who's actually on the ballot for another couple of weeks. That's because candidates can be removed from the ballot if challenged for not meeting all of the criteria in state law. Many challenges are brought for good reason, but all too often, challenges, including successful ones that remove candidates from the ballot, are not based on good policy.

Much of the attention on challenges, as with the rest of the Chicago elections, appears to be focused on residency issues. Rahm Emanuel may face a challenge based on his residency, just as other candidates have in the recent past. Other common reasons for bringing challenges include the failure by the candidate to submit the necessary number of petition signatures, the invalidity of some signatures, and errors by petition passers.

And yet, challenges often become tools for narrowing voter choice or diluting the votes of blocs of voters. We hope that every candidate who filed petitions and who also filed their Statement of Economic Interest remembered to file the receipt for their Statement with their election authority. Failure to file the receipt, as readers of this blog know, is grounds for dismissing the petition, even if the candidate did actually file the Statement itself. Candidates can, legally, be tossed from the ballot if there are problems with the status of their petition passer, or the notary who signed the petition; otherwise legitimate voter signatures can be rejected if there are problems with binding and numbering petition pages.

We hope that challengers and election authorities will remember the legitimate public policy reasons candidates file petitions and why challengers object. The point of elections is so that voters can choose who among them is best suited to represent their interests in public office. Public officials have to meet basic qualifications (typically age- and citizenship-based). Any serious candidate with sufficient support in the district should be allowed to run; anyone who is not serious about holding office or who lacks support in the district should not.

Elections should offer voters an honest selection of qualified people willing to serve. Too often, voters are denied that right to choose, and petition signers are ignored, because someone on the campaign failed to color within the lines. Such challenges are a travesty of democratic process, and should not be used to disregard the clear will of the voters.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ICPR Supports Chicago's Asset Lease Taxpayer Protection Ordinance

This morning I was proud to stand up with our friends at Illinois PIRG in support of the Asset Lease Taxpayer Protection Ordinance. We were joined at the event by Ald. Joe Moore (49), Ald. Bob Fioretti (2), Ald. Joe Moreno (1), and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), who all spoke on behalf of the 19 members of the Chicago City Council who have signed on in support of the proposal.

My comments at the press conference are below.

Statement of David Morrison, Deputy Director, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
November 17, 2010


I am honored to be here with so many reformers, some of whom are in public office and some of whom are not, to show support for enhanced transparency in city contracting. Despite the efforts of so many good people, Chicago has a broad and deep history of tolerating the abuse by a few of public resources in order to secure private, personal gain for themselves.

Seeing this large and growing group, so close to a majority of the full City Council, give me encouragement. These people, standing here today and those who have signed on as sponsors of the proposal, get it. We understand that the public has a right to know that their interests come first.

And so just as the public has a right to freedom of information, just as the public has a right to open meetings, just as the public has a right to transparent campaign finance disclosures, just as the public has a right to know what economic interests may cloud officials' vision, these people standing here and the others who have signed on as sponsors understand that the public also has right to know public assets are being used for the best interests of the public.

This proposal is about good and proper stewardship of public funds. And I thank you all for coming and declaring your support.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Parties, Common Donors

Some of the biggest donors to candidates for Illinois governor aren't from Illinois. The largest donor to Republican Bill Brady was the Republican Governors Association, which is based in Washington DC.

Among Democrat Pat Quinn's largest donors was the Democratic Governors Association, which is also based in Washington, DC. These two groups are fundraising arms of the two main national parties, and from the acrimony of the election, you'd think there are stark differences between them.

Turns out, not so much. An analysis by our friends at OpenSecrets.org found that the two groups draw on very similar lists of donors. Indeed, in many instances, the same corporations gave six-figure donations to both the Democratic Governors Association *and* the Republican Governors Association.

The Democratic Governors Association created a political committee under Illinois state law and reported donations to that political committee from the original donors. It is easy to see where the money directed to Pat Quinn's effort came from.

The Republican Governors Association chose a different path. The RGA created a committee under state law but then transferred money to that committee directly from its own treasury. The RGA does not disclose its funding on the same calendar as do political committees. They disclose donors to the IRS, not with the State Board of Elections. Only a portion of what the RGA raised for races across the country was spent in Illinois, so it is much harder to know if RGA donors were motivated by the opportunity to influence the Illinois election. The public may never have the kind of detail that the DGA provided, as to where the RGA obtained the $7.8 million it gave to Bill Brady.

The OpenSecrets analysis is based on the national groups' most recent filings with the IRS, which overlaps slightly the 2010 General Election period.

With that caveat, it is still interesting that so many donors have given to both parties. Among the largest 100 donors to either partisan fund, OpenSecrets found that aalmost half, 48 donors, including 45 corporations and 3 associations, gave to both.

Not only were these donors playing both sides of the political fence, they are also often in conflict with each other: Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, for example, all made six-figure donations to both.

It should be clear that many of these donors are giving not for ideological purposes but for access to people in power. That so much money is hitched to parties, which then use it for elections that have broad ideological impacts, should be concerning.

Take a look at OpenSecret's list and let us know what you see.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lawmakers look to chip away at disclosure law in veto session

Just months after updates to Illinois’ open records law went into effect, some members of the Illinois General Assembly are seeking to roll back a part of the statute.

The House is scheduled to try to override a gubernatorial veto in the fall session, known as the veto session, as early as this week.

ICPR urges lawmakers to support transparency by not overriding the governor’s veto.

Earlier this year, the Illinois General Assembly approved a bill, HB 5154, which would prohibit the disclosure of performance evaluations of state employees. The move to shield these documents from the public came without any examples or incidents of problematic enforcement.

The bill’s passage came just a couple months after updates to the Freedom of Information Act, which the General Assembly passed in the wake of the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich on corruption charge, went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. Unlike HB 5154, those improvements were intended to increase sunshine – not block it out.

Gov. Pat Quinn issued an amendatory veto on HB 5154, arguing in his veto message that the proposal was a “departure from groundbreaking legislation that I approved just last year, making our State’s open information laws among the most robust in the entire country.”

In rejecting HB 5154, Quinn suggested that the exemption be more narrowly tailored to keep private only the performance evaluations of law enforcement.

While Quinn’s proposal is slightly less acrid than the original, ICPR believes that even his proposal is unnecessary. Transparency in government is of fundamental importance; limiting such transparency is not in the public's interest.

The General Assembly has three options:

- Accept Quinn’s amendatory veto with a simple majority vote, thus codifying the exemption for law enforcement evaluations only; or
- Override Quinn’s amendatory veto with a 3/5 supermajority vote, thus approving the broad exemption which prevents disclosure of all employees evaluations, in HB 5154;
- Fail to do either, thus allowing HB 5154 to die and continue to allow disclosure of performance evaluations.

ICPR joins the Better Government Association, ChicagoAppleseed for Justice, Citizen Advocacy Center Illinois, Illinois PIRG, the Illinois Press Association, and the League of Women Voters of Illinois, in urging the General Assembly to choose transparency and reject the governor’s veto and the legislation.

For more information, check out a story from the State Journal-Register, and editorials from the Chicago Tribune, the State Journal-Register and the Rockford Register-Star.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dollars per Vote

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about spending in California elections where candidates burned through the equivalent of $97 for every vote they received. Those figures always seem like an invitation to armchair quarterbacking. Here in Illinois, Scott Lee Cohen led statewide candidates, spending upwards of $26 for every vote he received. For that kind of money, he could have taken his supporters out for a pretty nice meal. At the other end of the spectrum, Robert Enriquez spent just one penny per vote. (Enriquez, in case you've forgotten, was the Republican nominee for Secretary of State). But since both lost, it's hard to see how this analysis illuminates what candidates should be doing in order to win.

The issue isn't so much the amount candidates spend as the source of their funds. When a candidate spends a lot, the barrage of mail, broadcast and cable communications often forces their opponents to re-think their own voter outreach efforts. Often, these re-evaluations lead candidates to boost their fundraising targets. Most incumbents raise between $50K and $100K over the course of their terms, and for most of them, that's plenty. Every cycle, though, the parties decide to duke it out in districts around the state, and those races quickly zoom upwards in combined fundraising.

It is not necessary to spend the most to win. Indeed, many of the Democrats who lost last week vastly outspent their Republican opponents. But it is necessary to have the resources, financial and otherwise, to get your message out. When responding to a sudden tsunami of messaging from an opponent, candidates turn to sources of ready cash -- PACs, parties and the legislative leaders -- in order to keep their message before the voters. The problem is less how much they spend as where they get the money to spend. What obligations might they feel toward those donors who helped them out?

We'll be watching the disclosure reports in January and throughout the next year to answer that question. And we'll be rebuilding our website to make it easier for you to develop your own answers.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Kilbride wins retention, but campaign illustrates need for action

Illinois’ most expensive and bitter Supreme Court retention campaign ended yesterday as Justice Thomas Kilbride garnered enough votes to serve another 10-year term on the state’s high court, despite targeted opposition.

Kilbride, from the 3rd Judicial District, received about 65.5 percent of the vote. He needed a supermajority of 60 percent to retain his post.

By contrast, Justices Charles Freeman and Thomas Fitzgerald – who ran for retention in the 1st Judicial District (Cook County) this general election – garnered 74.8 percent and 76.7 percent of the vote respectively.

Although Kilbride’s victory was no squeaker, the “yes” vote percentage he received was the smallest of any Illinois Supreme Court retention candidate in the last 30 years.

In 1980, 5th Judicial District Supreme Court Judge Joseph Goldenhersh received 67.4 percent of the vote on way to winning another 10-year term. Outside of that, all other retention-seeking justices netted 70+ percent of the vote. (Voters have never failed to return a retention-seeking Illinois Supreme Court justice to the bench.)

Kilbride’s successful retention bid was the state’s most expensive such campaign, with proponents and opponents raising more than $3.2 million since July 1, and unprecedented by the degree to which opponents actively campaigned against his candidacy.

First elected as a Democrat in 2000, Kilbride was targeted for ousting by business interests and tort-reform proponents, who fundraised, campaigned and advertised against him.

Leading opponent group JUSTPAC put Kilbride in its crosshairs, in part, for his participation on a 4-2 majority decision striking down a 2005 law which capped medical malpractice awards.

Opponents also sensed an opportunity because Kilbride’s district, which stretches along I-80 from Joliet to the Quad-Cities, leans Republican. The majority of Kilbride’s funding, both in this retention election and in his 2000 campaign, came from the Democratic Party of Illinois.

While Kilbride was victorious, just over the border in Iowa, three Supreme Court justices there did not fare as well. Incensed by the Iowa Supreme Court’s 7-0 decision that legalized gay marriage, conservative organizations spurred voters to boot the three judges who were up for retention this November.

As in the Kilbride race in Illinois, the opponents targeted the Iowa judges because they disagreed with one ruling, not because of the justice's failure to correctly apply the law, or out of temperament or corruption concerns. In both, opponents used attack ads to slam the justices’ decisions.

Judicial campaigns have grown increasingly bitter and costly over the last two decades, which has resulted in growing public concern about the independence of the judiciary. This November’s contentious retention campaigns in several states appear to be an extension of this disturbing trend.

And the well-funded interest groups and political parties who dominate these acrid campaigns show no interest in slowing their spending or involvement. On the contrary, the results in Iowa – and perhaps even Illinois – may only encourage such involvement.

Illinois must not allow its judicial system to be further degraded. Fortunately, there are options on the table which would insulate the judiciary – such as optional public financing systems to pay for candidates’ campaigns – and help restore voter confidence in the courts. If anything, we hope this year’s disturbing judicial campaigns nationwide spur action on such proposals.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Who’s funding the party?

If you are the shallow type who picks their election night celebration based on where the best food and drink may be, we have some late breaking news for you.

Since late yesterday afternoon, Senator Bill Brady has reported over $1.2 million in new receipts. Granted, $700,000 of that was for an in-kind media buy from his very good friends at the Republican Governors Association, but there is still plenty in the kitty for quite a lavish array of hors d’oeuvres.

Last night, Governor Quinn’s two committees reported combined new receipts of $316,799, including $100K from DPI, $75K from AFSCME and $50K from SEIU. He, too, should have no problem laying on a nice spread.

Scott Lee Cohen has loaned himself an additional $65,000. It may sound paltry in comparison, but he can always write another check if the bar starts to run dry.

Finally, if you’d prefer not to party with the statewide crowd, Cook County Assessor candidate Joe Berrios has brought in $144,500 in the past 24 hours, including $25K from Citizens for Suarez.

Enjoy the party!

Statement of Economic Interest 'does not apply' to Government Transparency

Scott Lee Cohen describes himself as an entrepreneur and small business owner. The press often describes him as a pawnbroker.

No matter what words you use to describe him, he seems to have money to burn. He has almost 100% self-funded both of his campaigns this year. First, he dropped $4.2 million into his abortive campaign for Lt. Governor. More recently he has anted up nearly $3.5 million in his run for governor.

To understand the depths of his pockets, one might decide to look at his official Statement of Economic Interest (SEI).

Unfortunately, like the SEI forms completed by so many candidates and public officials, Cohen’s most frequent response to the eight-question form is “does not apply.” In addition to the pawnshop, he does indicate stakes in two Chicago properties, as well as an interest in a green cleaning supply company.

While they may be thriving businesses, it is hard to imagine that someone who doesn’t come from either the upper echelons of corporate America or great family wealth would be liquid enough to invest nearly $8 million of his own money into a quest (or quests) for Illinois elective office.

Too bad the SEI doesn’t offer more insights into the sources of Scott Lee Cohen or any public figures investment interests. In fact, the dearth of information available about this eight million dollar man illustrates the woeful inadequacy of the state’s primary reporting tool to prevent conflicts of interest. ICPR has long advocated that the SEI forms capture the source and amount of income; the value of investments held both inside and outside Illinois; the purchase and sale date of investments; and who the income accrues to, i.e. the individual, spouse or minor child.

It's not the fault of Scott Lee Cohen or any of the candidates that their economic interest reporting is so thin. They are simply answering the questions put to them. But if Illinois’ incoming General Assembly doesn’t seize the opportunity to address a problem in plain sight, shame on them.

You have until 7 pm

I got a kick out of Brewster Rockit today.

As viewers, there's not much to do about negative ads but to laugh about them. Paul Simon used to say that if airlines advertised the same way candidates did, nobody would ever get on a plane. To the extent that people associate elections with negative ads, and so choose to stay home, that's more than unfortunate.

Much as we abhor negative ads and wish candidates would focus on issues, voters can't always set the tone for how candidates run campaigns. Our job as voters is to discern which candidates best reflect our views, and to vote for them. Today is your chance to be heard. Please take the opportunity and get to your polling place before 7 pm. If you need to know where your polling place is, the State Board of Elections can help.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Don't forget the judges: Resources to help Cook County voters puzzled by judicial candidate choices

Below candidates for high-profile offices like governor and state legislator, Illinois voters will find a number of office-seekers that are rarely in the limelight: Candidates for judge.

These relatively obscure contests can surprise unprepared voters once they step into the voting booth, forcing them to make uninformed decisions or skip over the question altogether.

Luckily, Cook County voters have a number of resources to tap which can assist them in voting on judicial candidates. We've organized these in level of detail, from the most basic to the most detailed.

-- This year, the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and the Chicago Council of Lawyers organized a model Performance Commission to evaluate and make retention recommendations on the judges seeking new terms in the county. (We wrote about the project here.) To access the Performance Commission's recommendations, visit its website to review which candidates the body thinks should hold another term, and which don't make the cut.

-- The Chicago Council of Lawyers has made recommendations on all judicial candidates -- both those running for vacancies and standing for retention. Its recommendations are accessible here.

-- The Cook County Bar Association Alliance has charted the recommendations of all local bar associations, so that recommendations from each can be easily compared. Check out its workproduct here.

Candidate Sighted!

Two weeks ago, we flagged candidates who had not filed Pre-Election reports listing their campaign contributors between July 1 and October 3, as state law required them to do. As of last week, all but one of the five had filed the report late. Edwin Reyes, the incumbent and unopposed candidate for the Cook County Board in the 8th District was the only one who had not yet filed. Well, he still hasn't. But today, he filed an A1 report listing four donors who gave more than $500 within 30 days of the election.

It's a start!

DPI Supports the Incumbent in the 22nd House District (who also chairs DPI)

Speaker Michael J. Madigan wears many hats, including Mr. Chairman. As head of the Democratic Party of Illinois, he plays a key role in doling out state party funds to assist candidates around Illinois. This year, he's spent a goodly amount of DPI funds on his own race for re-election.

According to reports filed with the State Board of Elections, the Democratic Party of Illinois has spent $87K on Madigan's 22nd District re-election effort, including $40K on printing, $41K on postage, and $5K on polling.

That's more than DPI has ever spent on Madigan's races before (we found $5K in DPI spending on Madigan's re-election in 2002, and another $5K in 2004). And it's more than DPI spent on some of this year's high profile races, including Careen Gordon's re-election race in the 75th District and Dennis Ahern's efforts to hold Mike Boland's 71st District seat.

And maybe it goes without saying, it's more than DPI has spent helping Jay Hoffman in his million-dollar race to hold the 112th District. Of course, DPI hasn't spent a dime on Hoffman. Which is probably telling in another way.

Changing where the money is from

On Thursday we noted that House Republican Leader Tom Cross had moved money from his personal campaign fund and the House Republican Organization to Citizens to Change Illinois, a committee that has reported receipts from no other donors this year. Today we can update the destination of those funds. Of the $486K that went into Citizens to Change Illinois, here's who benefited:

Hamilton Chang (R-17): $47K
Billie Roth (R-44): $47K
David Harris (R- 75): $47K
Dan Sugrue (R-59): $17K
Maripat Oliver (R-85): $8K
Sue Rezin (R-75): $8K
Nick Been (R-79): $8K
Ruth Munson (R-43): $6K
Jeffrey Junkas (R-37): $4K

That still leaves almost $300K unaccounted for, FWIW.

Citizens to Change Illinois will likely need to change it's name to include Cross as an official sponsor, but that won't happen until after this election cycle. It's possible the group could drop the sponsoring entity tag before the next elections, if it raises enough money from other donors in the interim.

Citizens to Change Illinois is not affiliated with the reform organization CHANGE Illinois, of which ICPR is a member.