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!