YOU CAN BE A CANDIDATE AND NEVER FILE AN ACCURATE CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE REPORT!

Ever run up a bill for tens of thousands of dollars and not give it a second thought?

No, neither have we.

But Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, apparently wasn’t giving much thought to the $190,000 that her campaign committee owed to a company sending out campaign mailings for her campaign.

In July, the Friends of Iris Y. Martinez committee filed its semi-annual disclosure report with the State Board of Elections. This is the report that would have included receipts, expenditures and debts from her primary contest in March.

Martinez is not the only candidate filing incomplete disclosure reports, but her absentmindedness (if that’s what it was) points up yet again the need for the State Board of Elections to crack down on erroneous disclosure reports. If committees thought they might be audited and punished for failure to disclose information required by law, there would be far fewer mistakes and omissions.

None of the Martinez campaign’s reports to the State Board of Elections list the debt, and apparently we only know about it now because Rich Miller, owner of the Capital Fax newsletter and popular blogger (thecapitolfaxblog.com) thought something looked fishy.

When Rich Miller reported Tuesday in his must-read Capital Fax newsletter that the Illinois Senate Democratic Fund, controlled by Senate President Emil Jones, had given “a whopping $190,000 check” to the Martinez committee, it must have triggered some alarm bells in the Martinez campaign headquarters.

Miller and his readers were wondering why Jones would deliver such a big check after she had won a tough primary fight and her Republican opponent withdrew from the ballot back in May.

Miller reported her explanation in today’s editions. Martinez told Miller that she needed the money to pay the debt, which she had failed to report on her earlier public disclosure reports.

This all raises a few questions. What if the Senate Democratic committee had not reported the transfer of the $190,000 and Martinez had not reported receiving it? Quite likely, we never would not have known until long after Election Day. If then!

The State Board Elections doesn’t audit campaign finance reports. The Illinois campaign disclosure laws operate on the “honor system.” Even the most casual observers of Illinois politics knows that’s a mistake.

Some 3,600 campaign committees are active in Illinois. When it comes to filing accurate and complete disclosure reports, all of them operate on the honor system.

Earlier this year, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform reached a settlement with Rep. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago, who agreed to issue an apology for filing inaccurate and incomplete disclosure of contributions to her election campaigns from 2005 through 2007. Her campaign committee agreed to pay a fine of $20,000. We got to that point only because ICPR questioned why the Collins committee reported no contributions or expenditures for three years running. Collins acknowledged that her campaigns had received more than $110,000 in contributions and had spent more than $120,000 during those three years.

Maybe all that campaigning makes you forgetful.

But it reminds us of a classic Steve Martin routine.

From a 1/21/78 Saturday Night Live transcript, here’s Martin:

You.. can be a millionaire and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes! You say: "Steve, how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes?"

First, get a million dollars.

Now, you say: "Steve, what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, 'You have never paid taxes'?"

Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: "I forgot!" How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don't say "I forgot"?

We hope Sen. Martinez and Rep. Collins don’t forget again and that the General Assembly directs the State Board of Elections to begin conducting random audits of campaign disclosure reports.