Sen. Emil Jones' Campaign Fund: a half-million dollar personal bank account?

With press reports indicating this morning that Senate President Emil Jones is planning a retirement, we once again look at the campaign finance records to see how much a departing legislator could take with him for his own personal use.

Senate President Jones' main campaign account is Citizens for Emil Jones. Formed in 1974, it has State ID 188; one of the lowest of the currently active PAC numbers. The committee reported $577,605.04 in cash on hand as of June 30, 1998. That report listed no investments, but it did claim outstanding loans of $3,300, which may be in addition to the cash balance. State law bars candidates from using campaign funds for personal use, but grandfathers funds raised prior to June 30, 1998. So, that's the amount that President Jones could take from his campaign fund for personal use (provided that he pays income taxes on it).

It's worth noting that Sen. Jones is not required to take any money from the PAC for personal use; it's strictly up to him. Nor does he have to take any action any time soon; he has until the committee dissolves, whenever that may be.

Senate President Jones also chairs the Illinois Senate Democratic Fund (State ID 6920). That fund exists to "Support Democratic Candidates For State Office" so it's unlikely that any of that money would be available to Jones personally, though Jones has chaired the Fund since its inception in 1997. It claimed a balance on June 30, 1998 of $629,451.12. In looking up that balance, I also noticed that the Treasurer of the Fund is and has always been Courtney Nottage. Nottage worked on Jones' staff in 1997, but since February, 2005, he's been a lobbyist with Fletcher, Topol, O'Brien and Kasper, where his clients have included Com Ed, Arlington Park, and many others.

Jones owes substantial debts to his Citizens for Emil Jones, having borrowed some $120,000 from the fund over the past decade. These debts, typically in $300-$500 increments, have been only partly paid back. It appears from the most recent disclosure reports that he owes his campaign fund in excess of $30,000.

Any succession to the office of Senate President will play out on many fronts: personal, tactical, political. The decision will also have clear policy implications. While Democrats run all statewide offices and both chambers of the legislature, infighting between the Governor, the House Speaker and the Senate President have resulted in gridlock that stymied a broad range of bills. The Senate has an opportunity that does not come along very often, and we hope they not only find a leader capable of guiding the upper chamber to thoughtful, reasoned, and wise decisions, but also one who is committed to democratizing the caucus, reforming campaign finance, and ensuring far more openness in the process.