Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ICPR Blog: Moving and Improving

Our blog has been based here for several years, and many people have subscribed to it. We've been wanting to better integrate the blog into our website, and making that happen is nearly done.

Building the blog into the site will make it easier to move between the site and the blog, making the blog more visible to ICPR website visitors and the website more visible to blog visitors. We're very excited about the improvements.

The new blog site is here: It won't look much different, but it will be far more functional.

The one bad thing about moving the blog to the website is that RSS subscribers will need to resubscribe. The new RSS subscription is here. If you've been a subscriber, you'll need to update your subscription in order to get notices of new, informative blog posts. So don't delay, do it today.

And if you're not a subscriber, you'll find that the blog is just as wonderful as it's always been.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Lawmakers looking at ways to make Illinois government a little less open

Two years ago, lawmakers in Springfield passed a law designed to bring more sunshine into government.

But now that those much-lauded changes took effect, legislators are thinking about pulling down the blinds by supporting bills to knock out some of that light.

This year, Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have introduced bills to change -- or in many cases, completely gut -- the state’s open records law, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

This law guarantees Illinoisans access to public records, so that they can be informed about their government and shine a light on waste and corruption.

Although the FOIA has been in place for decades, it was revised in 2009 with the goal of increasing compliance with the law to ensure requestors gain access records in a timely fashion.

But just a little more than a year after those changes took effect, lawmakers are mulling plans to undo their good work and greatly reduce your ability to access public records.

We’ve already outlined our opposition to House Bill 340, but there’s an equally terrifying plan pending in the Senate.

Senate Bill 2203, if enacted, would significantly hinder Illinoisans' ability to obtain government records. This plan sponsored by Sens. Ed Maloney, David Koehler and Pam Althoff would:

-- Allow public bodies to charge requestors for the time and resources spent searching, retrieving and copying public records, at a rate of up to $25 hour. (That equates to a $52,000 annual salary!) The law currently only allows public bodies to charge requestors for the material costs of reproducing files, like per-page copying fees.

-- Limit how much information individuals could expect to access in a timely fashion. SB 2203 would allow public bodies to label FOIA requests as “vexatious” if the individual seeking records had sought to access a mere 5 records within a week, or if they sought a document which was $1,500 pages or more. Once labeled “vexatious” – as in harassing – the request would go to the back of the line, and public bodies would be free to take an unlimited amount of time to fork over the public document.

-- Exempt more information from public scrutiny, including information about law and administrative enforcement investigations and information about public sector job applicants.

We urge you to contact your lawmakers and encourage them to oppose any bills that would weaken the Freedom of Information Act and put the public in the dark about its government.

(ICPR has a tool to help you communicate with your lawmakers, even if you don't know their names or contact information. It's simple! Visit Legislator Letter program, then enter your address, select an issue you wish to write about and hit send!)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

ICPR Applauds Federal Pay-to-Play Rules

In 2008, Illinois was struggling to enact new rules on giving state contracts to campaign contributors.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich had raised millions of dollars for his campaign from donors who later got state contracts. Many of these were based out of state, had never given to Illinois candidates previously, and have not given to Illinois candidates since. A bill to ban this type of pay-to-play practice, and to require disclosure of campaign donations from contractors and bidders, was introduced. Every member of the Illinois House voted for the bill, and 48 of the 59 sitting state Senators sponsored the bill. Yet it was a struggle to enact the new law because Senate President Emil Jones did not want to embarrass his close ally, Gov. Blagojevich.

Jones' stranglehold on the bill was broken by then-US Sen. Barack Obama, who publicly called for his former colleague in the state Senate to hold a vote on the bill. Now, US President Obama is proposing similar disclosure rules for federal procurement. The Obama administration is circulating a draft Executive Order that would require companies bidding on contracts to disclose campaign contributions and independent expenditures that effect federal elections.

ICPR applauds this action. The federal context is different from Illinois', but many of the same problems persist. If contractors are also taking steps to benefit particular candidates, the public has a right to know if the political help factored in the letting of the contract. Disclosure is the sort of sunshine that can reveal problems or assure the public that there is nothing untoward.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

ICPR calls on House Redistricting Committee to bring more sunshine into remap

ICPR trekked out to Aurora Monday to urge the a House Redistricting Committee to bring more sunshine into the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing state House, Senate and Congressional district borders.

Both the House and the Senate have committed to going above a new law's requirement that each chamber hold four public hearings on the remap. This weekend, the Senate publicly committed to holding two additional meetings on draft maps, in advance of a vote. Although specifics about these meetings -- such as the location and format of the hearings -- haven't been made public, ICPR applauds the Senate for moving to add more transparency into the redistricting process.

At the House hearing at the Illinois Math & Science Academy in Aurora, ICPR urged the House to match the Senate's efforts in this regard. Our testimony follows:

Testimony to the House Redistricting Committee
Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
April 18, 2011

Good afternoon! My name is Whitney Woodward and I represent the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. ICPR is a non-partisan, non-profit, public interest group that researches and advocates for transparency and accountability in government and politics.

For the last 18 months, we have been working to educate the public about redistricting and how it affects government. Much of our work has been to highlight the lack of sunshine and meaningful opportunities for public involvement in the remap process, as well as to advocate that the General Assembly conduct the 2011 redistricting in a more transparent manner.

We are pleased that the House, through this committee, already has committed to going above and beyond the requirement established by SB 3976, a bill signed into law in March which requires each chamber to hold four public hearings on the remap.

In addition, we are happy to note that the House, in addition to the Senate, has increased opportunities for public involvement outside of this hearing process through the creation of mapping workstations and the establishment of informational websites.

However, this committee has yet to commit to the most important transparency component that can be offered to the people of Illinois: The public vetting and editing of draft legislative and Congressional district maps. We echo the call that many of today’s speakers have made about the importance of sharing proposed maps with the public, and I’d like to build on some of those comments.

As we explained during the debate on SB 3976 this past winter, it’s not only the quantity of public hearings, but the quality of those hearings, that matter. While the gathering of public comments can provide valuable guidance to map-drawers, that pre-map input, by itself, does not provide enough sunshine.

As outsiders to the actual mapping process, the public has no idea if or how the information taken by this committee will be weighed against other suggestions and whether residents’ guidance will be incorporated into the final districts. By providing an opportunity for residents to view maps before they’ve been finalized, and by considering their proposed changes in an open forum, this committee can answer these questions.

After completing the scheduled public meetings this committee has planned around the state, concluding with a hearing in the Capitol one week from today, this committee should release draft state House, Senate and Congressional district maps through the committee’s website. The maps should be distributed in a commonly available format, such as a PDF, in addition to a block equivalency file, so that parties with access to mapping software can use those programs to analyze the districts and offer specific changes.

Along with the release of draft districts, the committee should publish tables describing the demographics of proposed districts and explainer text outlining why districts were drawn the way they are. This narrative will help residents understand the often complex reasons behind districts’ shapes and possibly forestall some questions and opposition.

The act of releasing draft maps for public input will send a loud message to Illinois residents that there’s nothing to hide in this remap process and that you’re willing to discuss, defend and adjust your map with your constituents.

We salute the Senate Redistricting Committee’s indication that it will hold two public hearings on draft maps. We ask that the House Redistricting Committee match that chamber by holding two such meetings, several days after the release of a map, at which public comments on draft districts can be gathered and changes made to the final product before a vote.

The General Assembly has more than six weeks before its scheduled adjournment May 31. That gives this body ample time to complete pre-map hearings, release draft maps for public vetting, and then hold additional meetings to consider feedback.

It should come as no surprise to you that, thanks to advances in technology, media coverage and community engagement, the 2011 redistricting cycle will be subject to unprecedented scrutiny. It is in both in the public interest, and your interest, as lawmakers, to proceed with this remap in a meaningfully transparent and accountable way. We applaud the steps the General Assembly has taken in this direction, but will continue to advocate for this outstanding sunshine component we feel is quite valuable.

While it may seem impossible to pass a map that pleases all individuals and interest groups, it is quite possible for you to pass a map that the public has had ample opportunity to study and influence.

ICPR looks forward to working with Majority Leader Currie, this committee and all members of the General Assembly in ensuring that the public is given a meaningful role in this important process.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Plan to rollback open records law advances, but with commitment to negotiate changes

Just a little more than a year since sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information Act -- the state's open records law which is designed to guarantee individuals access to public documents -- took effect, lawmakers are considering a handful of proposals which would roll back parts of this vital law.

One of these proposals, HB 340, was debated in a House judiciary committee this morning. ICPR submitted testimony opposing this proposal. We were joined in our opposition by the Attorney General's office and the Better Government Association, among other organizations.

The proposal advanced out of committee on a 7-3 vote, but because of the substantial opposition to the plan, HB 340 sponsor Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia agreed to hold the bill on second reading so that changes to the bill can be negotiated. Reps. Elaine Nekritz, Dwight Kay and Ann Williams voted against the plan. Reps. Mike Connelly, Naomi Jakobsson, Art Turner, Lou Lang and Chapa LaVia supported the bill, as did Rep. Jil Tracy, who noted that her "yes" vote was given because of the sponsor's offer to negotiate revisions to the plan.

ICPR welcomes the opportunity to discuss ways to narrowly tailor the legislation in a way that will not negatively impact the public's ability to access public records. Below is a copy of ICPR's testimony which was submitted to the committee prior to the vote.

Testimony to the Illinois House Judiciary I Committee on HB 340
Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is a non-partisan, non-profit, public interest group that advocates for transparency and accountability in Illinois politics and government.

ICPR strongly opposes HB 340 and urges this committee to reject this proposal.

Two years ago, in the wake of the Blagojevich impeachment, ICPR worked with the Attorney General’s office, the Legislature, the news media and other public interest groups to negotiate changes to FOIA with the goal of streamlining the records request process and increasing compliance. Those revisions won overwhelming, bipartisan support from both chambers of the legislature.

ICPR valued that opportunity to analyze the law and debate opportunities for improvement, and we are disappointed that a similar, open model was not used to organize the discussion around this and other pending FOIA bills. The Freedom of Information Act directly impacts the people of Illinois, not just the public bodies who must respond to records requests.

There are many problems with HB 340, and several of them can only be characterized as dangerous.

This proposal would strike at the general public’s right to access information by eliminating the current provision in statute which guarantees requestors can access a token number of black-and-white pages without additional charge. Allowing taxpayers to get 50 pages of printouts without additional cost – because let’s keep in mind that they have already paid for them with their tax dollars – is not an unreasonable burden.

The anecdotal evidence that supporters of HB 340 have identified, of FOIA requestors who may seek to exploit this exemption through separate requests for 50 pages, could be addressed in a narrower way. Eliminating this provision entirely in statute is an exaggerated and inappropriate remedy to a purported problem whose extent has never been documented.

Along the same lines, HB 340 would make an unnecessary change to a provision in the law which currently directs public bodies to provide requested records, when possible in a format requested by the individual. FOIA does not direct public units to convert files to a designated format.

However, HB 340 would give public bodies the sole discretion to determine the electronic format in which they will provide public documents to requestors, provided only that the format is “generally available to the public.” This could render some requested records meaningless. Imagine if a 1,000-page spreadsheet was put into a non-searchable PDF. That format would render the document largely inaccessible and far less useful than the format in which it is normally maintained. Here, too, the problems cited by proponents can be addressed in a much more fitting and narrow way.

The remaining part of the legislation would rework the “commercial purpose” definition.

We objected to the creation of the commercial purpose track in 2009 because we do not think that the requestors' intent should have any bearing on the right of the public to obtain documents. However, in the spirit of compromise and in order to secure passage of other positive provisions, we accepted this language.

HB 340 would greatly broaden the "commercial purpose" language just a little more than a year since the changes took effect.

The unusual deference that this legislation would give public bodies in responding to commercial purpose requests should alarm the members of this committee. This proposal would give public bodies free reign to interrogate they suspect are commercial, even those who have already identified as commercial requestors, as to their intent. What concern is it to a public body what specific purpose the requester will use the sought record for? The bill offers no explanation of why the specific purpose of the request needs to be gathered by the public body – and the interrogation itself will surely intimidate individuals requesting documents that are not exempt from disclosure.

The implicit message of this portion of the legislation is that the purpose of the record requestors’ FOIA would govern the speed in which records are produced. And under this language, a public body could declare a request is commercial and subject the requestor to an endless loop of "clarification" demands before beginning a search for the requested records.

Moreover, HB 340 would greatly expand the statutory definition of a “commercial purpose” in ways that would limit all uses of public documents. Take an organization such as my own: ICPR publishes and makes available to the public an annual report detailing local governments’ use of contract lobbyists. Although the purpose of our report is to shed light on the expenditure of public funds, some lobbyists have pointed to our report as evidence that their rates are reasonable. As such, would a local government dispute that our report is for “academic, scientific, or public research or education,” which remains an exemption, because the report could be used to “further a commercial … enterprise" under the new definition? HB 340 would give local officials the means to stymie our non-profit mission.

Most troubling of all, for a group like ICPR, is that the proposal creates a perpetual obligation on all FOIA requestors -- commercial and non-commercial alike -- to keep public records secret if the public body ever denies access to those records to a commercial requestor. Section 3.1 (d) would levy penalties against anyone who delivered public documents to a commercial entity who used those records without paying the commercial rate. This would apply to documents obtained by commercial and non-commercial requestors alike, and even to documents that were obtained without a formal FOIA request.

This section is over broad, overly punitive and completely contrary to the spirit and intent of FOIA, which is to recognize that records held by a public body belong not to the public body but to the people.

But even though there would be no guarantee that individuals would get access to their requested public records in a timely fashion, a responding public body would be granted sweeping abilities to charge a host of new fees related to fulfilling the request. A public body, under this proposal, could task a staffer making a six-figure salary with responding to requests to charge an artificially inflated rate and, again, to discourage the disclosure of public records.

Even if the retrieval fee calculated wasn’t prohibitive, I question how a public body could consistently and accurately estimate these retrieval cost. Prior to the 2009 changes, per page copying fees varied widely between public bodies. and the requester paid the amount, the public body would be under no obligation to provide those now paid-for documents in a timely manner.

FOIA has never allowed for public bodies to charge for staff time or retrieval costs -- a recognition that taxpayers have already paid for these documents.

Just as we worry about the expansion of the commercial purpose definition, we are concerned about the precedent that would be set with the establishment of these new fees.

Public records are public records regardless of the intent or identity of the requester. The “commercial purpose” language was adopted by the General Assembly to alleviate some of the pressure public bodies may feel when handling multiple FOIA requests, and under the accelerated timeframe established in the revision approved in 2009. Since the revision of the FOIA, there has been no documentation of the purported problems which HB 340 would address. Without that evidence, it's hard to understand what purported problems this bill would remedy, and why it is written so broadly.

The framework proposed by HB 340 is simply unworkable. This committee should reject this bill outright.

If representatives from public bodies feel that there are portions of the statute that need revision or reworking, the Legislature should start fresh, beginning with an open discussion which includes representatives from all interested parties.

Thank you.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Mapmakers as Kingmakers?

Today's State Journal-Register joins a growing chorus of voices calling for complete transparency in the drawing of new legislative and congressional district maps.

The legislative remap road show stopped in Springfield this week, giving the handful of citizens who showed up the chance to voice their concerns about how lawmakers carve up the state to define Illinois House and Senate districts.

…Unfortunately, it appears the participatory part of the process may end with these hearings.
As things stand now, there is no provision for holding additional public hearings once drafts of the new legislative districts have been drawn. That means the witnesses who testified at these hearings won’t get a chance to see if their advice has been taken until after the new map becomes law.

Earlier in the week, the Bloomington Pantagraph pushed Illinoisans to get involveld in the remap process and even try their own hand at mapmaking:

We hope many try their hand at drawing new maps.
A kindergartener could draw a better map than some we’ve seen.
In fact, some have looked like they were drawn by a 5-year-old. Too much emphasis has been placed on protecting incumbents’ districts rather than objectively drawing district boundaries.
Attempts to reform the state’s redistricting process failed last year. So we’re stuck with what we have.
The fact that one party — in this case, the Democrats — has control of the House, Senate and governor’s office doesn’t bode well for an objective, open process.
But cynicism shouldn’t prevent the general public and Republicans from working for a fair map.

And the Peoria Journal Star expressed concern about how mapmakers can be tempted to see themselves as kingmakers:

To be sure, both sides have always tried to draw maps that would be most advantageous to their candidates, with fairness and the best interests of citizens in terms of getting decent choices at the ballot box distant considerations. It's about them and about protecting their majorities, not about you. But now the Dems can pretty much impose whatever map they want to with even less debate than usual. This will be a real test of Gov. Pat Quinn the reformer. The end result will tell Illinoisans quite a bit about him.

Hearings are being held around the state now, and lawmakers will vote in Springfield on the final map. Now is your one chance this decade to speak out on this process.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Ameren and Others Giving to Legislators

One of the improvements to Illinois' election law that took effect at the start of this year is a requirement that political committees disclose large donations throughout the year. This change will help the public better understand how campaign finance may be affecting public policy in real time -- not just at election time.

Before the new law took effect, committees had to report large donations only in the weeks before an election. But that left the public in the dark at other times of the year -- when matters were pending before legislative bodies, county boards or village councils. The public learned of large donations only after important legislation, rules, and ordinances had already been debated. The new law allows a great window of sunshine.

Campaign finance reports filed by sitting legislators and statewide officials show that they have already received over $2 million from wide variety of interest groups in 2011. Top contributors include:

(1) Ameren ($77,000)
(2) Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois/ABDI ($57,500)
(3) IL State Council of Operating Engineers/IUOE ($52,000)
(4) IL Laborers Legislative Committee/Laborers Unions ($48,000)
(5) IL State Medical Society ($44,500)

Ameren's giving stands out, not only because it's heads and shoulders above the rest, but because it's aggressively pursuing a major legislative initiative right now. Ameren, along with Commonwealth Edison (#8 on the list, showing $33,250 in contributions) is seeking a change to the law which would allow them to spend more on infrastructure improvements and pass those costs along to rate payers, while simultaneously curtailing the Commerce Commission's oversight role.

Since the start of the year, Ameren gave half of their donations to leadership, including $15,000 to House Republican Leader Tom Cross ($10K to Cross' own committee and $5K to the House Republican Organization); and $10K each to the Senate Democratic Victory Fund and the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee. They gave another $10K to Sen. Kirk Dillard, who sits on the Senate Energy Committee. Other recipients include Sens. Gary Forby, Mike Noland, and Dale Righter, all of whom also sit on the Senate Energy Committee, and State Rep. (and Chicago Clerk-elect) Susana Mendoza, who sits on the House Public Utilities Committee.

Will Ameren's giving have an effect on public policy? What about the other interest group giving? We'll have to wait and see. But we wouldn't even know to ask without the greater disclosure made possible by the new election law.

To search recent giving to legislators, statewides, Cook County and Chicago officials, please visit the Sunshine Database.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Campaign contributions "to keep the police off their back"

There’s a reason we encourage reporters to ask campaign contributors why they give.

Sometimes the answers surprise.

Casey Toner, a reporter with The Southtown Star, wrote a Saturday story about campaign contributions by strip club owners. Toner's article included the following nugget:

Thomas Amadio, a former manager of Sharkey’s, a now-defunct club owned by his family, said there’s a reason strip clubs will pony up the cash to politicians.

“To gain political favor with them and to get help for problems that occur — with liquor licensing, underage dancers who come in with fake IDs ... fights, drugs,” said Amadio, a Chicago Heights park district commissioner. “To keep the police off their back. That’s why they’re doing that.”

That may be the naked truth!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Over $2 Million in Resources for Next Tuesday's Runoffs

SEIU dominates the race with 24% of all reported funding

Heading in to the final weekend before the Chicago run-offs, candidates and interest groups are reporting over $2 million in resources to influence voters.

Combined, disclosure reports indicate that candidates in Tuesday's Chicago elections have $1.8 million in campaign contributions since the February elections. But that figure does not include $355,000 in independent expenditures made by SEIU. Combining direct contributions and independent expenditures, SEIU alone accounts for nearly one fourth of the resources devoted to the council run-offs.

Because of the new campaign finance law that took effect in January, this is the first election cycle to feature such independent expenditures. In the past, groups could coordinate unlimited activities with candidates. New contribution limits mean that donors who want to do more for candidates than the limits allow must do so without consulting with the candidate. SEIU is spending twice as much on these uncoordinated activities as they are giving directly to candidates.

Looking solely at direct giving to candidates, SEIU ranks second among all donors, behind the New Chicago Committee, a group that did not exist on the date of the February 22 election. New Chicago was formed by Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel to support aldermanic candidates in the run-off.

There's a lot of overlap in the recipients from these top donors, and the divisions of the 2007 Big Box/Wal-Mart fight seem to be over. Unlike in previous elections, large donors seem to be in agreement on who to support; money in each race appears to be concentrated in the same candidate.

Other top donors to aldermanic run-off candidates include UNITE HERE at $142K, AFSCME at $78K, and For a Better Chicago at $70K.

All of these numbers are up substantially since ICPR last reported on totals on Tuesday, March 29, and we expect more money and resources to appear in the disclosure reports in the final days before voting ends. Full disclosure reports are due to be filed with the State Board of Elections by Friday, April 15 for the first quarter of the year

Thursday, March 31, 2011

House Democrats announce remap committee and public hearing schedule

House Democrats today announced steps to bring more sunshine into the remapping process today with the formation of a Redistricting Committee and public hearing schedule announcement.

However, it remains unclear if the Democratic lawmakers who can control the redistricting process will provide the critical missing ingredient – an opportunity for the public to review draft maps and have residents' proposed changes considered by lawmakers in an open forum before the new borders are approved.

Democratic Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie will serve as chairwoman of the committee that will guide the once-a-decade process of redrawing state House and Senate borders. She will be joined by five other Democrats: Reps. Edward Acevedo, Marlow Colvin, Lou Lang, Frank Mautino and Karen Yarbrough, all of whom are members of the caucus’ leadership team.

House Republican Leader Rep. Tom Cross has yet to announce his appointees to the panel, but plans to do so shortly, according to a spokeswoman for the caucus. (The Senate Redistricting Committee already has been formed and held its first public meeting Monday.)

The House Redistricting Committee has scheduled hearings in 15 parts of the state, beginning on April 16 with Champaign, Cicero and McHenry. The announced hearing schedule concludes April 25, with a 3 p.m. committee hearing in the Capitol in Springfield.

In addition, the House Redistricting Committee has established a Redistricting website similar to the online hub announced by Senate Democrats a couple weeks ago.

The House announcement also detailed the creation of a “viewing station” in the Stratton Office Building, next to the Capitol in Springfield, which will provide some resources for users to draw maps.

ICPR has repeatedly stressed the importance of allowing residents to view, analyze and suggest changes on draft maps prior to final approval.

We hope that the General Assembly will commit to meaningful transparency in the remapping process by providing this opportunity.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Residents outline flaws with current district borders, urge Senate redistricting committee to make draft maps public

More than 30 individuals and community group representatives addressed the Senate’s Redistricting Committee in Chicago Monday at the first public meeting about the state’s upcoming remap since Census data was made public.

Many of the speakers sought to define their communities – geographically and in shared attributes – and urge the lawmakers to keep those areas united within the new state House and Senate districts which must be created this year.

Often, speakers’ testimony focused on how the fracturing of their communities by the existing borders have hindered their ability to find advocates for their interests in Springfield and made it difficult for residents to learn who represents them. (ICPR covered the hearing on Twitter; follow us at @ILCampaign.)

The Senate committee’s 4-hour hearing in Chicago was the first public meeting since the detailed headcount data about Illinois residents was released by the Census bureau in February. The chamber has announced four additional hearings – April 6 in Springfield, April 16 in Kankakee and Peoria, and April 19 in Cicero – although committee chairman Sen. Kwame Raoul has said he anticipates additional hearings will be scheduled.

The House and the Senate are required to each hold four public hearings on the current district borders as mandated by a new law that Gov. Pat Quinn signed in March. The Illinois House has yet to establish a committee and announce public hearings; House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie told ICPR on March 25 that she does not know when the chamber will do so.

However, there’s no mandate that lawmakers reveal the map to the public in advance of voting on it. Multiple speakers at Monday’s committee hearing urged Senators to make a draft map public several days in advance of any vote, so that residents have time to analyze it and propose changes. (ICPR urged the same thing when the law mandating some public hearings was debated at the Capitol.)

Because Democrats control the governor’s office and hold majority in both the House and the Senate, it’s expected that the party will pass a map without significant Republican input. If anything, the opportunity for one party to control the remap process only increases the need for draft maps to be shared with the public and adjusted based on residents’ feedback.

Chicago Run-offs Account for $1.6 Million in Fundraising

Chicago's run-off elections are a week from today and what has been a series of sleepy races, financially speaking, are starting to perk up.

Combined, disclosure reports indicate that candidates in next week's run off elections have $1.6 million in resources since the February elections. Looked at one way, the largest donor is the New Chicago Committee, which didn't even exist when that election was held. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel put it together to help candidates in the run-offs, and that's what it's doing, accounting for $1 in $8 of what's been reported since then. (New Chicago's donor list looks much like Emanuel's).

But looked at another way, SEIU is the biggest spender on the April election. SEIU has given $148K directly to candidates in the election, but they also report an additional $115K in independent expenditures, all of it on cable TV ads in support of John Arena in the 45th Ward.

Other top donors include Unite Here at $87K, AFSCME at $68K, and For a Better Chicago at $58K.

There's a lot of overlap in the recipients from these top donors, and the divisions of the 2007 Big Box/Wal-Mart fight seem to be over. Only Che "Rhymefest" Smith, challenger in the 20th Ward, reports getting money from the unions but not New Chicago or For a Better Chicago. His opponent, incumbent Ald. Willie Cochran, has not filed any new disclosure reports since the February election. It's possible that he hasn't raised anything since then, but if he is simply not reporting contributions, his failure may result in fines of up to 100% of the unreported donations.

Other candidates also appear to be afoul of the disclosure laws. 25th Ward challenger Mike Chandler is filing his reports on paper, even though he's now well above the threshold for electronic filing. In the 15th Ward, neither candidate has filed any disclosure reports since the February election.

With a week to go, look for substantial spending on these races. Many of these top donors have plenty more in reserves, and that cash may not do them much good after April 5.

Monday, March 21, 2011

SBE Votes Against ICPR Complaint

In closed session this morning, the State Board of Elections voted not to hold a public hearing on our complaint against For a Better Chicago. We alleged that For a Better Chicago, the largest single donor to aldermanic candidates in the February elections, had to file disclosure reports. Today's vote means the complaint ends and For a Better Chicago will not be required to disclose the source of their funds.

Below is our statement to the Board.

Statement of David Morrison,
Deputy Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and
Complainant Against "For a Better Chicago, "
to the Illinois State Board of Election,
March 21, 2011
11 CD 003

ICPR filed this complaint in response to what appeared to be a significant violation of state campaign contribution disclosure requirements. For a Better Chicago is a new organization, formed in October of last year, which raised at least $855,000 in its first two months and used that money to support candidates in the February aldermanic elections. In fact, For a Better Chicago was ultimately the largest single source of funds for aldermanic candidates in that election. But For a Better Chicago has not filed any disclosure reports to indicate where the money came from. We believe the public has a right to know who is funding aldermanic campaigns, and so we brought this complaint to enforce the law regarding disclosure of campaign receipts.

The facts are these:
• Three people, Greg Goldner, Rob Nash, and Dave Smolensky, formed a new organization on October 27, 2010. They called the new organization For a Better Chicago, and they declared at the time that the sole purpose of their new organization was "political." (See the incorporation papers). They began to raise money for their new political corporation.
• Eight weeks later, on December 28, the exact same three people formed a political committee under the Election Code. The Committee has the same address, the same three officers, and the virtually the same name: For a Better Chicago PAC. Like the corporation, the PAC also has an explicitly political purpose: "to support candidates," (See the D-1 Statement of Organization). Collectively, Goldner, Nash, and Smolensky decided to move $855,000 from the political corporation they formed in October to the political committee they formed in December. They did so immediately before limits on giving to committees would have prevented them from making such a transfer, evidencing an awareness of Illinois' election laws. Essentially, they moved money from the left hand to the right hand, so that the right hand could give to candidates.

ICPR raises two objections.

One, we assert that For a Better Chicago is a non-profit entity under Section 5/9-7.5, and that giving to a political committee established "to support candidates" is an expenditure within the meaning of the election code triggering non-profit registration and disclosure.

Two, ICPR asserts that For a Better Chicago, by raising money for “political” purposes and then expending it "to support candidates" is itself a political committee under Section 5/9-1.8, and is bound by disclosure requirements. Moving money from their left hand to their right hand does not change the fact that the same people control the money. It is simply not credible, for the purpose of Article 9 of the Election Code, that Goldner, Nash, and Smolensky did not know where the money came from, money they raised for "political" purposes, when they decided "to support candidates."

At the closed preliminary hearing, counsel for For a Better Chicago suggested that his clients relied on Appellate Court rulings in the two cases ICPR brought against the State Board of Elections. However, both of those cases addressed the proper exercise of discretion by members of the State Board of Elections. The first resulted in a request that Members of the Board cite their reasons for reaching conclusions. The second found that the reasons cited were sufficient to justify each Member reaching their conclusion. The two cases affirm that you have discretion to apply the law to the facts before you. Indeed, the ruling found that the four Board members who agreed with ICPR's position in that earlier complaint were justified in doing so. Both cases attest that you can apply the law in this case to the facts before you. Neither of those cases binds this Board or any Member of this Board to any particular ruling in this case. (I would also point out that, contrary to the Hearing Officer's Report, ICPR did not have a political committee. The committee in question belonged to the Coalition for Jobs Growth and Prosperity).

The facts in this complaint are different from the facts in our previous complaint against the Coalition for Jobs Growth and Prosperity that triggered those Appellate Court cases. In our 2005 complaint against the Coalition, there was no statutory requirement that non-profits register and disclose their receipts. The Coalition formed more than six months before giving to candidates. The Coalition did not have an absolute identity of officers with the political committee. The eight of you can look at the facts in this complaint against For a Better Chicago, apply the law and reach a different conclusion than you did in the older complaint, and still be wholly in accord with those two rulings.

Respondent claims that it is engaged in activities beyond supporting candidates. (See Respondents #3) I would point out that there is no evidence that For a Better Chicago engaged in any such activities until after ICPR contacted For a Better Chicago with our concerns about their lack of disclosure. I would also note that there is nothing in statute to prevent a political committee from making in the kinds of statements that For a Better Chicago is making in New Jersey and Wisconsin. Their activities through the end of 2010 are sufficient to include For a Better Chicago in the scope of disclosure rules mandated by the Election Code.

Respondent submitted, as Exhibits 5 and 6, documents filed by other committees, one of which was the subject of the two appellate court rulings and the other being SEIU, the labor union. Respondents suggested that in order to find that For a Better Chicago is a political committee, the Board would have to find many other groups to be committees as well. This is a gross overstatement of the allegations in our complaint. There are clear, factual, cognizable distinctions between For a Better Chicago and the organizations whose forms they submitted: (1) there are differences in the leadership of the organization and their political committees, (2) labor unions like SEIU file disclosure reports with the US Department of Labor showing the source of their funds; (3) neither of those two groups were formed solely and explicitly for “political” purposes, and (4) reports filed by groups show that they have existed for years while For a Better Chicago has yet to celebrate its first half birthday. For all or any of these reasons, it would entirely appropriate for you to draw a bright line that requires For a Better Chicago to file as a political committee while not reaching the same conclusion with respect to those other organizations.

Finally, respondent offered affidavits from two officers of For a Better Chicago to the effect that the political corporation did not play a role in how the political committee decided to give to candidates. (See Respondents #2 & #4) To which I would suggest that both affidavits miss the point. Because both organizations are run completely and solely by the same agents, it is simply not credible that Goldner, Nash and Smolensky did not coordinate with Goldner, Nash and Smolensky. They know the true source of the $855,000 that was given to candidates. The public has a right to that information as well.

The fundamental issue here is whether the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Is it credible that the same people can raise money for “political” purposes and spend that money “to support candidates” without triggering campaign disclosure? Can campaign disclosure be undone by having the exact same people form two separate-but-identical corporations? That is the question this complaint raises, and I urge you to support the public's right to know by enforcing the law on For a Better Chicago.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

ICPR Testimony on Party and Caucus Transfers

The Election Law Subcommittee of the Senate Executive Committee met yesterday to hear SB 1272, which would set limits on transfers from parties and caucuses to candidates in General Elections. ICPR's testimony is posted below. Alas, at the end of the hearing, the bill was held in subcommittee.

Statement of David Morrison
Deputy Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Before the Election Law Subcommittee of the Senate Executive Committee

March 16, 2011

Good morning distinguished members of the Election Law Subcommittee. My name is David Morrison, and I am the Deputy Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. As you know, ICPR was an active participant in negotiations over the current campaign finance law, and we are here today to support continued dialogue over how best to regulate campaign finance in Illinois.

Illinois was long a hold-out in the national movement to address the fact and appearance of corruption that arises when private interests are allowed to make unlimited contributions to candidates for elected office. It was not until Rod Blagojevich was arrested and charged with federal crimes, and then impeached and removed from office by this General Assembly, that the Illinois acknowledged how large donations can work a corrupting influence over public policy. Gov. Blagojevich sold public jobs, state contracts, and appointments to state boards and commissions; his associates used the promise of state pension fund placements and other state actions to shake down citizens, all with the goal of generating resources for his political campaigns.

Against that background, Illinois enacted contribution limits in 2009, which took effect earlier this year. The new law went a long way toward shielding the public sphere from the perverse influence of private money. The one area on which we could not reach agreement was party and caucus transfers during General Elections. SB 1272 could close that circle.

ICPR supports limits on parties and caucuses in General Elections for two reasons.

• One, we believe that what's good for the goose is good for the gander, which is to say that candidates should not be so dependent on transfers from parties and caucuses in hotly contested races and that such reliance creates the impression of a debt owed.

• Two, leaving parties and caucuses unlimited creates a moral hazard, where parties and caucuses may become tempted to serve as conduits for money that candidates themselves cannot legally accept. If a donor has maxed out to a candidate, they may be drawn to the party or caucus to move that money to the candidate. Without a limit on such transfers, there is no cost to the party or caucus to play that role. Limiting parties and caucuses will protect the integrity of those two entities.

ICPR supports SB 1272 and HB 1344. These bills include limits on parties and caucuses in general elections, and I note that these are not the same limits that are currently set in primary elections. ICPR recognizes that parties and caucuses have traditionally played different roles in these two elections, and so there is some justification for different limits in generals. While we are not wedded to the same limits, we are committed to enacting reasonable limits in general elections, and urge you to do so.

Thank you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Legislative Leaders and Parties Pay for 63% of Spending in Hot Races

Candidates depend on caucus leadership to pay for their campaigns.

In a new analysis released today, money provided by legislative leader PACs and political parties accounted for 63 percent of the spending in the big dollar campaigns for 19 legislative seats in 2010.

Spending by the legislative leaders and parties totaled $15.4 million, the bulk of the total of nearly $24.4 million spent by the 38 candidates vying for 12 House seats and seven Senate seats, according to an analysis of records examined by the Sunshine Project and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).

The $15.4 million included more than $4.8 million to Senate Democratic candidates; nearly $4.4 million to House Democratic candidates; more than $3.6 million to House Republican candidates; and more than $2.5 million to Senate Republican candidates. The study examined spending in races where each candidate received a total of at least $100,000 from legislative leaders and parties.

“Legislators living in fear of a tight election contest have come to depend on legislative leaders to prop up their campaigns,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). “That dependence can become a real addiction, and the side effects warp representative government.”

“Several legislators are in Springfield today only because legislative leaders and parties came up with a third or more of the money they needed to wage winning campaigns against well-funded rivals,” said Kent Redfield, Director of the Sunshine Project and a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “Several of them allowed their legislative leaders and parties to provide an astounding 70 to 80 percent of their total spending. That high degree of dependence on a single donor can make constituents question whether their representatives are responsive to their interests.”

The highest total spending contest in the 2010 general election was the more than $2 million spent by the two candidates running for the 49th Senate District, just south of Springfield. Deanna Demuzio, the incumbent Democrat, spent $1.8 million, including $1.2 million in leader/party money (66 percent), but she lost to Republican Sam McCann, who spent nearly $900,000, including $634,000 in leader/party money (71 percent of his spending).

“Suburban and Downstate legislative districts often feature vigorous campaigning by candidates from both parties,” Redfield said. “In 2010, more of those candidates turned to legislative leaders who spit out cash like an ATM machine on the fritz.”

The 2010 election was the last Illinois election waged under a campaign finance system that allows unlimited contributions from all sources. Beginning in 2011, contributions more all sources, including legislative leaders and political parties, are limited in primary elections. The new law applies limits to all funding sources except legislative leaders and parties in the general election.

“Before the 2012 election season begins, Illinois should close that loophole that would permit a continuation of unlimited giving by legislative leaders and parties,” Canary said. “Legislation pending in the General Assembly would close the loophole and provide for a comprehensive system of reforms. However, passage depends on the ability of rank-and-file legislators – including those who owe their election victories in large part to some enormous contributions from leaders – to convince leaders that the leaders be placed under limits like all other funders.

(Chart of contributions for Senate and House targeted races can be found on ICPR's website, at http://ilcampaign.org/targeted-legislative-races-2010.)

Monday, March 07, 2011

Shine a light on ... redistricting: Models of how to raise public involvement, participation in 2011 remap

The redistricting bill Gov. Quinn signed into law today creates new criteria designed to protect communities in the map-drawing process, but fails to provide meaningful transparency and public involvement mandates.

ICPR testified to this effect in both the Senate and House committees when the bill was debated this winter. After the plan, SB 3976, passed, we dropped Gov. Pat Quinn a note in which we urged him to watchdog the remap and use his position (and bully pulpit) to inject transparency into the remap process, if need be.

The new law calls on lawmakers to hold a mere four public hearings in the state before they can pass a map dictating the borders for the Illinois House and Senate districts.

The bill doesn’t mandate that lawmakers share maps of those new districts – which will stand for the next 10 years, until after next Census – before they pass them, nor does it create opportunities for the public to involve themselves directly in the boundary-drawing process.

But as the legislation’s Democratic sponsors explained to us during debates on this measure in the Capitol, there’s nothing to prevent either lawmakers (or the governor) for going above and beyond the disappointing minimums that SB 3976 establishes.

Across the country, many governments have created opportunities for the residents observe and participate in the district-drawing process. Here's are three concepts that have popped up on our radar, any of which could adapted and replicated in Illinois to improve our state's 2011 remap:

- In Fairfax County, Virginia, the Board of Supervisors has appointed an advisory citizens commission to provide suggestions to the Board, which approves maps establishing its new districts. The panel has geographic representatives, as well as individuals representing ethnic and racial communities and the political parties. Additionally, the Board accepts comments from the public, who is also welcome to comment on drafts at an open meeting, or even submit its own map proposals.

- In Florida, the state House has created a web-based redistricting program, called My District Builder, through which users can use detailed demographic data to propose their own maps. The House also has created an online redistricting hub which provides visitors with a wealth of information about the importance of redistricting, laws governing the process and the legislature.

- In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced a bill which would mandate public hearings on redistricting to be held statewide, require the redistricting commission to take input from the public and consider alternative maps, and instruct the map-drawers to explain the rationale for its final plan.

Friday, March 04, 2011

A Quirk in the Law or Just Wrong?

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that a group called "For a Better Chicago" should disclose the identity of its donors. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) agrees. We've been saying it for several weeks, and we filed a complaint on Feb. 14th with the Illinois State Board of Elections seeking to compel disclosure of $855,000 in mystery money being used by the For a Better Chicago Political Action Committee.

We appreciate the soon-to-be mayor says that he believes in transparency and that this group, which has moved hundreds of thousands of dollars into aldermanic campaigns, should come clean.

But we take issue with Emanuel's description of what this group is doing. According to news reports, Emanuel said For a Better Chicago is using a "quirk in the law" to keep the identity of its donors a secret.

Given the lengthy and sometimes whacky battle over the question of whether Emanuel met the legal qualifications to run for mayor of Chicago, he should know that some people imagine "quirks" in the law where there are none.

Follow the bouncing dollar bills.

A organization is created by the name of For a Better Chicago. It collects money but won't tell the public anything about its funding sources.

Then a political action committee is formed - just before the state's new campaign contribution limits law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2011. That political action committee is called For a Better Chicago Political Action Committee. The PAC reports to the State Board of Elections that it received $5,000 from the non-profit For a Better Chicago on Dec. 29, 2010, and $850,000 from the non-profit on Dec. 30, 2010.

THAT is quirky, but we're not convinced there's any "quirk in the law" that should allow this mystery to continue.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Legislators and parties have raised over $1M in 2011

Legislators have been reporting large donations since the start of the year.

The new campaign finance law that took effect January 1st has had a major impact. Contribution limits have gotten most of the attention. But there were other parts of the law that are equally deserving of attention.

Under the old law, candidates had to report large donations only if they were in the middle of an election. No one who was not involved in an election had to report, and no one at all had to report except during the 30 days before an election.

Thanks to the new law, we know that sitting legislators, statewides, and political parties have raised over $650K since the start of the year. And that does not include the more than $500K raised by Reps. Burns, Mendoza, and Osterman, who all won elections in Chicago last week.

Big recipients include the four tops, of course: Senate Democrats show $90K mostly in the Victory Fund but also in President Cullerton's PAC. Senate Republicans show $71K between Radogno's PAC and the caucus committee. House Republicans report $52K, mostly in the HRO. Speaker Madigan reports just $10K, and DPI hasn't filed anything yet.

Others reporting big totals include Rep. Skip Saviano, who reported $41K; State Sen. Rickey Hendon, who reported $37K so far this year, before his surprise retirement announcement last Thursday; and Sen. Tony Munoz, who reported $36K. Statewides with notable totals include AG Lisa Madigan with $19K and Treasurer Dan Rutherford with $18K.

A-1 reports are now required year round. If you want to see if big money might be influencing an issue in the legislature, in the executive branch, or in your own local town, have a look.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Updated Aldermanic Numbers (more on the website)

The Sunshine Database has numbers for all the Chicago candidates. Go have a look. Here's an update on the top donors to Aldermanic candidates, as of this morning.

Top Contributors to Chicago Aldermanic Races (10 or more races) (Excludes self-funders)
$339,840 For a Better Chicago-PAC (19 races)
$249,820 AFSCME IL Council No 31 (25 races)
$222,220 General Iron Industries & Labkon Family (21 races)
$179,900 SEIU Unions SEIU IL Council PAC - SEIU Healthcare IL IN PAC (18 races)
$145,494 UFCW Unions Political Fund of IL UFCW - Local 881 – UFCW DC (15 races)

For a Better Chicago is pulling away from other donors, now nearly $90K more than the second largest donor. They have yet to disclose the source of their funds.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

For a Better Chicago is the Top Donor to Aldermanic Candidates

Below are updated numbers on giving to aldermanic candidates, as of last night. Note that these exclude giving to other Chicago candidates (the citywides), to other PACs, or to state or county officials.

Top Contributors to Chicago Aldermanic Races (5 or more races) (Excludes self-funders)
$243,223 For a Better Chicago-PAC (17 races)
$240,320 AFSCME IL Council No 31 (25 races)
$196,230 General Iron Industries & Labkron Family (18 races)
$171,400 SEIU Unions SEIU IL Council PAC - SEIU Healthcare IL IN PAC (18 races)
$133,494 UFCW Unions Political Fund of IL UFCW - Local 881 – UFCW DC (14 races)

For a Better Chicago has reported one $10,000 donation from an identified person, the only other reported receipts are listed transfers from itself. The organization could not make these donations without the use of secret money. ICPR filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections to compel disclosure of those funds.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Put Black Boxes on Airplanes, not in Campaign Finance

The Container Store sells all sorts of boxes. So do Crate and Barrel, and Target, and Sears, and you can also find boxes at Office Depot or Staples. Clear plastic boxes so that you can see what's inside of them, and boxes with solid walls that you have to open to know what's in there. Each has a purpose. There is a place and time for each. If you want to put things where they cannot be seen, choose a solid box with thick walls.

Some people think campaign disclosure belongs in boxes with thick walls. After all, it's one way of obscuring their public policy objectives. For years, there have been people who have tried to hide the extent of their role in financing candidates. Illinois has long allowed corporations to give to candidates, and the public disclosure reports are littered with donations from trusts, partnerships, and other entities with complex ownership chains.

It can be very hard to tell who is making the decision to give money to a candidate. Generally, we can untangle the reports to see where the money is coming from. But when people hide boxes within boxes within shells within shrouds, it can get nearly impossible to clarify the true interests behind the contributions.

The thing is, corporations cannot write checks. People write checks. They may do so out of a corporate checkbook, but there is always a flesh-and-blood person behind every contribution listed in candidate disclosure reports.

The goal of campaign finance disclosure is to alert the public to conflicts of interest, to situations where a donor may get special treatment. That can work only when the public knows who is giving to candidates. In order for the public to trust that their government is working in their best interest, it is essential that the public knows who, precisely, is making a contribution.

Putting donations in a black box makes disclosure meaningless. If anyone can form a non-profit and use that to hide their identify, then there is no point in following the donations. Save the boxes for moving day, and protect the public's right to know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Clerk Candidate Mendoza Holds Big Financial Advantage with Assist from Schock

The race to replace outgoing City Clerk Miguel Del Valle remains the "other" contested citywide race. Nearly all of the attention has gone to the Mayoral, and for good reason, but the election of the Clerk plays an important role in city politics.

There are just two candidates: Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Patricia Horton and State Rep. Susana Mendoza. Horton's campaign fund shows just $17K for the race. (She has another fund for her MWRD seat that has very little in it) That's considering cash on hand on the first of the year and all money raised since then. Her four reported donations this year include $1,500 from "Citizens for Good Government," a new state PAC formed by US Rep. Danny Davis that, in turn, reports a single $3,000 donation from Cecil Butler of Pyramidwest Development Corp. a Chicago real estate developer. Other Horton checks include $2K from State Sen. Rickey Hendon; and $7K from two individuals.

By contrast, Mendoza shows roughly 20 times as much cash as Horton. Mendoza's biggest contributors this year include two political committees associated with US Rep. Aaron Schock (R- Peoria). The GOP Generation Y Fund, a federal leadership PAC, gave $5K, as did Schock for Congress, his candidate PAC. Schock, who represents Peoria, served in the state House with Mendoza.

Mendoza's other top donors include AFSCME at $15K, and $10K from Tim Rand and another $10K from Midway Airport Concessionaires. A host of names are at the $5K level: 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly's campaign fund, nursing home owner Morris Esformes, Clifford Law Offices, Fred Eychaner, and David Herro. She's also tapped donors with Springfield connections, including Midwest Generation and lobbyist John Potts. James Tyree of Abbott Labs gave $5K, and the Abbot Labs Employee PAC gave another $1.5K. (Mendoza lists him as President of Abbott Labs, though it appears he's actually President of a subsidiary called Abbott Biotech Ventures.) Colleagues in the House of Representatives have combined for $9K.

Mendoza is running away with a clear financial advantage. She was uncontested in her re-election effort last fall, and used the time to add more than $60K to her campaign coffers. Horton was mid-term at the MWRD; she was not on the ballot and did not raise much.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Labor Tops Giving to Chicago Council Candidates

Candidates for Chicago City Council have reported over $5M for the elections later this month (if you don't count the $6M uncontested 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke has sitting in his fund). What's interesting about that is where the funds came from. And how muchy is still sitting on the sidelines.

In the 2007 aldermanic races, the defining dynamic was the fight over Big Box ordinance between the labor unions, led by SEIU and AFSCME, and supporters of Mayor Daley, which took the shape of the First CD Victory PAC. Both sides in that election funded opposing candidates with different ideological views on the direction of the city.

This year the dynamic is different. Unions have still given a lot, and pledged to give more. And many are looking to For a Better Chicago (FaBC) as the successor to the First CD Victory PAC as the counter balance to the labor money. But it's not clear that all this giving is wholly oppositional in nature.

In 2011, AFSCME is the top donor to candidates for City Council, showing over $180K in contributions. SEIU is second, with $137K in combined giving from either the SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana PAC and the SEIU Illinois Council PAC. In third place is FaBC at $120K.

Those are substantial sums, but they pale beside what could be coming. SEIU, for instance, announced plans last November to spend upwards of $1M on the elections. Campaign finance reports suggest that the two main SEIU committees are already sitting on another half million, and they could raise more from other locals. AFSCME has $110K in cash at the moment, and they formed a new committee last week as a giving vehicle for the DC-based national union.

FaBC also has a tidy sum. They have reported raising $865K. Of that, they've disclosed the source of just $10K from investor David Herro - of the other $855K, the PAC is reporting only that the FaBC non-profit donated the funds to the FaBC PAC, leaving the public to speculate on the original source of the funds. FaBC PAC has a net pile of $745K, even if they don't raise another dime. Whether that's in reserve for the April run-offs, or for use in the February elections remains anyone's guess.

But what's also striking is how many candidates are reporting donations and endorsements from both FaBC and labor. Of the 12 candidates that have reported getting $10K from FaBC, 5 have also reported significant support from AFSCME and/or SEIU:

• Former State Rep. Deborah Graham, the appointed incumbent in the 29th Ward, shows $50K from AFSCME, along with her $10K from FaBC.
• JoAnn Thompson in16th shows $21K from AFSCME and $10K from FaBC.
• State Rep. Will Burns, the presumptive favorite to succeed Toni Preckwinkle in the 4th, shows $10K from SEIU, $5K from AFSCME, and $10K from FaBC.
• Willie Cochran, the 20th Ward incumbent, reports $5K from AFSCME alongside the $10K from FaBC.
• Tim Cullerton, recently appointed to succeed Tom Allen in the 38th, shows a raft of union money, including $2.5K from AFSCME, and $10K from FaBC.

Giving in these elections seems to be driven more by relationship building than by a real struggle for the vision of the city's future. Money from all three of the top donors appears to be going to candidates leading in the polls, rather than supporting new candidates with a sympathetic agenda. Time will tell if the pattern holds. But on-lookers hoping for another round of knock-down council elections may have to keep looking.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Top Aldermanics

The first round of voting in Chicago's aldermanic races in just over two weeks, and the candidates are busily courting voters at every opportunity. Sometimes this takes a personal touch, but in many wards, candidates are relying on fundraising efforts to get out the vote.

ICPR looked at cash on hand on January 1, and all money raised since then. A list of the top five contested wards for fundraising is below.

43rd Ward (Lincoln Park): $759K. The 43rd Ward sees the departure of incumbent Vi Daley and a field of 9 candidates to replace her. All but one have formed fundraising committees. Current Ward Committeewoman Michelle Smith leads in fundraising with $284K, followed by Rafael Vargas at $141K and Bita Buenrostro at $113K.

27th Ward (Near West Side): $400K. In the 27th Ward, incumbent Ald. Walter Burnett is sitting on nearly all of the money, though his two challengers do have fundraising committees.

46th Ward (Uptown): $275K. With Ald. Helen Schiller's retirement, the 46th Ward is more like the 43rd - an open seat with many candidates actively raising money. James Cappleman, who ran before, leads fundraising with $113K, followed by a tight cluster of Don Nowotny at $48K, Molly Phelan at $47K, and Befekadu Retta at $46K.

19th Ward (Beverly/Morgan Park): $225K

45th Ward (Jefferson Park): $252K

In some wards, a handful of candidates are raising money at a furious clip. The top fundraisers since January 1 are:

19th Ward Candidate Anne Schiable: $92K. The 19th Ward is an open seat and as in the 43rd, the current Ward Committeeman leads in fundraising. Matt O'Shea reported $116K at the end of the year and has added $18K since then. Candidate Anne Schiable reports $103K total, including $92K raised this year The great bulk of that, $85K, came from Keith Schiable.

38th Ward Alderman Tim Cullerton: $84K. The 38th Ward has 8 candidates including Cullerton, who was appointed to the seat after the retirement of Tom Allen. No other candidate shows more than four figures.

29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham: $81K. The 29th is a crowded field with 8 candidates, 6 of whom have formed fundraising committees. But nearly all of the money is flowing to the sitting (appointed) Alderman, former State Rep. Deborah Graham, and to challenger Mary Gardner. No other candidate reports five figures.

4th Ward Candidate Will Burns: $81K

29th Ward Candidate Mary Gardner: $79K

Our website has fundraising and cash-on-hand for all candidates, if your ward isn't here. Our district locator will also tell you who his running in your ward, based on your address. Have a look. Data updates twice a week, including, by the end of this week, the paper filers.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Better Late than Never (Updated with Proft filing)

Disclosure reports from political committees were due to be filed with the State Board of Elections one week ago. ICPR is tracking 1,000 committees for candidates around the state, and found over 100 who failed to meet the filing deadline.

Late filers included newly-elected US Rep. Randy Hultgren, Chicago Ald John Pope, tea party favorite Cedra Crenshaw, and Chicago mayoral candidates Carol Moseley Braun and Miguel Del Valle. But to their credit, all of those have since filed the reports, some only a few hours late.

Most of the stragglers had submitted their reports by early this week, but three dozen were still missing reports as of this morning. Chicago Ald. Emma Mitts is probably the most prominent who has yet to file; others are mostly candidates who lost election last year or challengers in this year's aldermanics: lobbyist Elgie Sims, who jousted with Cook County Commissioner William Beaver (8th District); Enrique Perez, now running for 2nd Ward Alderman; and campaign consultant and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dan Proft.

Fines from the State Board of Elections will be forthcoming for delinquent candidates and committees, but monetary penalties aside, these candidates should recognize that they should file because it's the right thing to so. The public has a right to know who is funding campaigns for the basic reason that campaign finance all too often influences public policy. Disclosure, long considered the best disinfectant, is to alert the public to conflicts of interest that officials face when serving the public. Disclosure is to assure constituents that their interests are more important than the interests of contributors.

And so we urge all committees to fulfill their legal obligations and file timely reports. And we note -- these were the last reports to be due on the 20th day of the month. For decades, reports were due by the end of the month; when the March Primary Election was bumped up to become the February Primary Election, the due date was moved up from the 31st to the 20th. And now, with quarterly reports, the due date is again moving up. The next reports, covering the first quarter of 2011, will be due on April 15. If you know anyone who files these reports, be sure they know to file on time.

Update: Dan Proft filed earlier today, on paper. His report shows a single contribution of $500,000 on December 28, from Richard Uihlein, who had previously given Proft $165K. Needless to say, this report should have been filed electronically. That contribution is $495K more than Uihlein could have given Proft at a time four days later.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buzzer Beaters: Large Donations in the Weeks Before Limits Took Effect

In the days leading up to the effective date of the campaign contribution limits in Illinois, there was a flurry of large contributions that would have been over the limits on Jan. 1.

ICPR found almost $13 million in donations to political committees that were made in the final days before limits took effect. These donations could not have been made in January. But the committees that received this money can spend the money now, and into the future.

With the start of the year, Illinois joined with nearly all other states in setting limits on campaign contributions.

The law creating these limits was signed into law in December 2009, and political committees and contributors alike had just over one year to prepare. Some prepared by lining up large donations in the final weeks before limits would have made those donations illegal.

Reformers anticipated that some donors would seek to beat the clock in this way. We saw similar rushes of activity in the weeks before the ban on personal use of campaign funds took effect in 1998, and, of course, Rod Blagojevich tried to rake in as much as he could from state contractors before the Pay-to Play ban took effect at the end of 2008.

So let’s acknowledge these donations for what they are: the final bleats of a system that tolerated outsized transfers of wealth from interest groups to politicians.

Here is a list of the political committees that reported the largest donations after the 2010 General:

1. Chicago for Rahm Emanuel Raised $3.2 million in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

2.Stand for Children Illinois. Raised $2.7 million in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

3. Illinois Hospital Association PAC. Raised $860,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

4. For a Better Chicago PAC. Raised $840,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011. (This assumes that the one donor, a not-for-profit also named For a Better Chicago, is not in fact a political committee itself. If For a Better Chicago NfP is really a committee, then the net overage would be $800,000)

5. Illinois State Medical Society PAC. Raised $760,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

6. Personal PAC. Raised $605,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

7*. Pat Quinn Committees. Raised $494,500 in increments that would be illegal in 2011. Taxpayers for Quinn reported $281,900 while Quinn/Simon reported $212,600.

8*. Citizens for Patricia Van Pelt Watkins. Raised $349,900 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

9*. Gery Chico for Mayor. Raised $251,400 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

10*. Cable Television and Communication Assn.. Raised $240,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

* Update - in a paper report filed a week after the deadline, former guberntorial candidate Dan Proft listed a single $500,000 donation from Richard Uihlein. That donation would put Proft's committee at #7 on this list, raising $495K in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Raising the Bar in Economic Transparency

ICPR was proud to stand up with Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon today to trumpet her new transparency initiatives.

In addition to an Executive Order banning her staff from accepting meals from lobbyists and her campaign from taking contributions from employees of statewide officers, she also released a "compiled statement of financial condition," prepared by her accountant. The release offers a view of her financial holdings unparralleled among other elected officials.

Simon was joined at the press conference by Sen. Dan Kotowski, sponsor in the last legislative session of SB 2216, to overhaul the Statement of Economic Interest. The Statement of Economic Interest is required by the state Constitution of all candidates for office and also of many non-elected officials. It's a two-page form, and most legislators are able to answer "does not apply" to all eight questions. While few officials may be willing to match Simon's transparency, there is no doubt that the current Statement fails to provide voters with adequate information to judge conflicts of interest faced by our public officials.

It has become common for candidates to release their tax forms, but since these focus more on income than on holdings, tax forms are not well suited to educating voters about all conflicts that officials will face.

We applaud Lt. Gov. Simon for her stance on transparency, reminding us all that state statutes set a floor, not a ceiling, for disclosure. And we commend Simon and Kotowski both for their determination to improve disclosure of conflicts of interest to the public.

Friday, January 14, 2011

State Board of Elections Says Computer Fix Is On The Way

Just last month, it was legal for contributors to give unlimited sums of money, and candidates and interest groups had weeks before they had to report these donations to the public. The new campaign finance law, which took effect January 1, made a number of changes to the Election Code, bringing limits on donations and year-round, near-real time reporting of large donations.

Beginning this year, political committees will disclose their finances on a quarterly basis. Going forward, these "D2" reports will be filed in April, July, October, and January.

Another change, this one less significant, is that these D2 reports will be filed with the State Board of Elections by the 15th day of the month. On January 20th, political committees will file the last of the six-month reports they've been filing for over a decade.

A final change requires groups to report large donations within five days of receipt. In the weeks before an election, committees that are involved in the election will have two days to report these large donations. In the past, these so-called A-1 reports were only in the 30 days before an election. Now, all committees will have to report large donations year round, giving the public a better, more timely view of the flow of money in politics.

The benefits of this last new requirement, however, are delayed by a software glitch. A problem in the State Board of Elections (SBE) website is forcing candidates to file A1's on paper, instead of electronically. The SBE assures us that they will have the problem fixed soon, and that committees that filed on paper will then have to re-file electronically. But in the meantime, it's been harder for the public to track large donations.

Update: As of midday on the 14th, the glitch was repaired and the SBE website was taking A1s electronically. Staff at the Board is now reminding committees that filed A1s on paper to re-file electronically.

Illinois has long been a nationally-recognized leader in campaign finance disclosure. With these changes, we take another giant step forward.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Education Money - Stand for Children Discloses Fundraising

Stand for Children shocked political observers last fall when they started giving five-figure donations to candidates for the General Assembly. Total giving from the group reached $600K through election day. Observers were left wondering, what did they want? And would they last?

Stand for Children filed their D2 for the last half of 2010 today and it makes a definitive statement. They report raising a whopping $3,486,000.00 between their September creation and the end of the year, including several six-figure donation in December from a who's who of wealthy Chicagoans.

It's worth noting that those donations came in right before contribution limits took effect, so it will be difficult for a group like Stand for Children to replenish their funds once these are spent without a significant re-tooling of their fundraising methods. But whatever they choose to do, they have more than enough in the near-term to match any donations from the teachers' unions. Neither the IEA nor the IFT has filed yet for the last half of last year, but given past trends, it appears Stand for Children will be a financial equal to their efforts.

A Nation of Laws, not of Politics

The recent sentencing of former US Rep Tom DeLay brought another reminder that no one is above the law, and that civil society can and should determine the rules of engagement for politicians. A judge in Texas sentenced former DeLay to 3 years in prison for money laundering in connection with Texas elections.

DeLay insisted that his conviction "criminalized politics" but we in Illinois know better. We have heard the same defense from politicians across the spectrum, people like Scott Fawell and Robert Sorich, who insisted that they were innocent because all they were doing was playing hardball. Juries rejected that argument in Illinois, and the Texas judge did as well. The plain point of these case is that political campaigns are governed by laws.

It's not "just politics" to rig hiring evaluations to favor campaign volunteers in violation of a federal court decree. Especially when one of them turns out to have been dead at the time of the interview. It's not "just politics to shake down state contractors for payments to friends of a public official, even if those payments are disguised as "lobbyist contracts." And it's not "just politics" to launder corporate money through a series of political action committees, so that the money winds up in the hands of candidates who cannot legally accept corporate donations.

If we are truly a nation of laws, then it is all the more important that our elections be governed by laws. Elections determine who among us will represent the public, and therefore who will write laws. If elections are corrupted, then what legitimacy does government retain? The sentence ordered by Judge Pat Priest should serve as a reminder to politicians everywhere that what criminalizes politics is not laws, but politicians committing crimes. If you don't like the law, rather than violating the law, work within the law to change it.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Improved Disclosure in Campaign Finance

It's been a busy couple of days at the State Board of Elections. The new campaign finance law, which took effect last Saturday, has triggered a rush of filings as political committees get into compliance with the new requirements.

Among these are provisions that all active political committees file updated Statements of Organization to indicate if they are candidate, party, ballot initiative, or general committees. Committees can also file their D2 Semi-Annual Reports for the last half of 2010.

Beginning on the first day of the year, the new law requires all political committees to report large donations of $1,000 or more within five business days. This provision has the potential to mark a significant shift in the public's understanding of how money flows to candidates and interest groups, and this requirement is not dependent on the election calendar. In years' past, these A1 reports were due only in the final days before an election. Now, political committees must report large donations throughout the year, and as a result the public will be able to monitor large donations at other times than just before an election.

Is there a key vote coming before the city council? Is there a hot proposal floating before the county board? The new requirement will allow voters to see if contributors are speaking with their wallets at the same time that lobbyists are speaking in committees.

The first A1 report of the new year, covering large donations received since last Saturday, are due at the State Board of Elections by Friday. Committees would have stopped filing A1s after the February 22 election, but thanks to the new law, expect to see reports like this throughout the year. There will likely be an increase in frequency in the weeks before the February 22 and April 5 elections, but at any point in the future, if a political committee receives a contribution of $1,000 or more, it will be filing an A1 to disclose that to the public. Voters have a right to know how campaign donations might affect elections; now the general public will have an easier time telling if campaign donations are affecting public policy.

Newly filed A1s will be listed here on the SBE website, and as always, they are fully searchable. See what you find!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

House Democrats say they may go above, beyond transparency requirements in redistricting bill

The Illinois House on Tuesday approved SB 3976, a redistricting proposal which would require lawmakers to hold a mere four public hearings before they can draw and approve a new district map for the next decade. The 67-46 vote in the House sends the legislation to Gov. Quinn for his consideration.

As ICPR did in November, we testified on the bill in committee to ask the House to amend the legislation to mandate more opportunities for public involvement.

Although our call to amend the bill was unsuccessful, the legislation's House sponsor, Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, said the four public meetings required by the legislation should be considered a "floor, not a ceiling." Lawmakers may choose to hold more public hearings than those mandated by SB 3976, Currie said.

We'll have more on the bill and the vote later, but for now, check out our testimony on SB 3976, which we delivered to the House Executive Committee on Monday, Jan. 3.

Statement by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Concerning Senate Bill 3976

Delivered by Whitney Woodward
To members of the Illinois House Executive Committee
January 3, 2011

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is a non-partisan, non-profit, public interest group that researches and advocates for transparency and accountability in government and politics, and for more than a year, we have been active on the redistricting issue.

Although earlier efforts to make substantial changes in the redistricting process through a Constitutional amendment were unsuccessful, there still is an opportunity to improve transparency and public participation in the redistricting process through legislation.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 3976, as currently written, would not ensure that Illinoisans are given a meaningful opportunity to participate and monitor the process by suggesting maps, commenting on drafts, and proposing improvements to such proposals. This bill should be amended to make certain Illinoisans have the ability to participate in the redistricting process.

The minority voting rights changes contained in SB 3976 are improvements, and ICPR does support that section of the legislation.

However, the section on transparency is weak. As currently written, SB 3976 would require the House and Senate to hold four committee hearings -- either jointly, or separately -- across the state, after Census data have been delivered to Illinois. These four hearings would be to "receive testimony and inform the public on the applicable existing districts."

There is no requirement that the public have an opportunity to review and comment on maps after the committee approves a plan and before a vote of the House and Senate.

That is troubling. Public comments and public involvement are needed to look toward future, not retrospective, maps.

In each of the last three redistricting cycles, there has been limited public dialogue during the map-drawing process. Not surprisingly, an increasingly cynical public has voiced concerns about the resulting maps, and rightfully so. They look at a map of the state’s districts, see dozens of funny-shaped districts, and question why those borders were placed there.

It doesn't have to be this way. You can provide for an open redistricting process which allows for the public to monitor lawmakers' deliberations on a new map and propose improvements to draft maps under consideration. Indeed, the General Assembly must provide for such opportunities if it hopes to demonstrate to the public that the redistricting process isn’t being used to serve political goals at the expense of the public interest.

Senate Bill 3976 should be amended to include the transparency requirements contained in Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 121. That proposal required Census data and map-drawing tools to be made available to the public, who could submit draft maps for consideration, in addition to requiring public hearings both before and after district drafts were created.

The language in SJRCA 121 guaranteed that the public would have an opportunity to participate in and watchdog the map-drawing process, and that commitment to transparency should be retained in SB 3976.

Several newspapers throughout Illinois have editorialized in support of improving the transparency provisions of SB 3976. Copies of those editorials have been submitted to committee members with ICPR’s testimony.

ICPR asks the committee to amend the bill to mandate that Illinois residents be given an opportunity to draw maps and to comment and propose improvements to proposed districts.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

You Can Help Grow Our Young Leaders in Public Interest Seminar Series

ICPR is looking to expand our Young Leaders in Public Interest Seminar Series, and you can help! Here's how.

Last summer, we drew over four dozen interns from 16 non-profits across Chicago for the series.

By bringing together interns from a variety of non-profits, we were able to help broaden their educational experience, facilitate conversations between NGOs, and foster a more inclusive sense of community among Chicago-area non-profits.

We held panel discussions with leaders in philanthropy, government, media and the law, drawing speakers from across the political spectrum. Speakers included cultural historian Tim Samuelson, WBEZ Reporter Sam Hudzik, State Senator Kirk Dillard, Woods Fund Program Director Consuella Brown, and DePaul Law Professor Sarah Klaper.

With your help, next summer could be even better! Click here to vote for our proposal!