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.