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April 2, 2014

Statement of ICPR to the House Judiciary Committee in support of HJRCA 52

Good morning, Chairperson Nekritz, Spokesperson Sandack, and members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is David Morrison, and I’m with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. ICPR was founded to work on a bipartisan basis to improve government and elections, and it is my honor this morning to speak to you in support of HJRCA 52, which would amend the state constitution to expand voter protections.

 
Current provisions of the state constitution (Art. III, Sec. 1) declare the qualifications for voting in Illinois, that persons who wish to vote must be (1) citizens, (2) at least 18 years of age, and (3) permanent residents of the state for at least 30 days before the election, in order to vote in that election.
 
However, Art III Sec 1 gives the General Assembly and other state and local government actors wide latitude to set registration requirements and election procedures. The proposal in HJRCA 52 would expand the rights in Art III Sec 1 by declaring (1) a right to register to vote, (2) a right to cast a ballot, and (3) clear protections for these rights with regard to (a) race, (b) color, (c) ethnicity, (d) status as a member of a language minority, (e) sex, (f) sexual orientation, or (g) income.
 
This proposal would ensure that procedures related to voting could not place a disproportionate burden on citizens who are also members of a protected category. It complements current state constitutional provisions and is wholly consistent with federal requirements for voting, but goes further by establishing rights and protections relating to voting and voting procedures under Illinois’ state constitution.
 
For these reasons, that the proposal adds rights to register to vote and to cast ballots, limiting the ability of state and local officials to adopt procedures for these activities that impinge on protected groups, and because it creates a right in state court for redress, ICPR views this as a positive addition to the state constitution, and urges your support.


February 17, 2014

President’s Day: Turning Point in the March Primary

Today is President’s Day, long set aside to honor the men (all of them, alas) who have served as our nation’s chief executive. This year, though, it also marks a turning point in the primary election season. Today is the 29th day before the March election, and so there are some changes everyone should know about.

 
Voters: If you haven’t registered to vote yet (or updated your registration since the last time you moved) you will soon have fewer options to do so. Ordinary voter registration closes later this week. Grace period registration is an option at the office of your local election authority, though if you register this way, you may have to vote at the same time, so be prepared. If you don’t think you can get to the polls on March 18 or just don’t want to wait, you have two options: early voting runs from March 3rd through the 15th, also at the offices of local authorities, though some offer satellite locations, and mail ballot applications are now available (remember, you no longer need an excuse to vote by mail). Check with your local election authorities for more information.
 
Candidates: Candidates have to disclose large contributions within five (5) working days of receipt, except during the final 30 days before an election. Between now and Tuesday, March 18, PACs active in the primary will have two (2) working days to report contributions of $1,000 or more. On Wednesday, March 19, the window again expands to 5 days. These reports are filed electronically and are available on-line.
 
Interest groups: Anyone making an independent expenditure about a candidate, including messages that urge voters to support or oppose a candidate as well as messages about the candidate aimed at voters, will have two days to file a disclosure report (called a “B-1” report) with the State Board of Elections. These are filed electronically and are available on-line.
 
Also, any interest group broadcasting an ad aimed at voters and featuring “a clearly identified candidate or candidates who will appear on the ballot for nomination” is making an electioneering communication and so triggers disclosure of the source of funds that paid for the ad. Their statement of organization must be filed with the state board of elections within two (2) business days. This “D-1” form is filed on paper, but the Board typically posts it to the Internet in PDF format within a matter of hours.
 
Baseball: Pitchers and catchers reported last week, and players at the other 7 positions are due to report later this week. (Yes, that is to say that “DH” is not a “position,” anymore than “bench warmer” is.) What does this have to do with the election, you ask? Well, it goes to show that life goes on, regardless of what happens on March 18. Opening day is just six weeks away; mark your calendars now.
 
 


January 15, 2014

Non-profits, or Trojan Horses? What to Look for in the Campaign Finance Reports through the March Primary -- Part 3

Today is the deadline for campaigns to file disclosure reports for the fourth quarter of 2013. These are the last major disclosures to be filed before the March primary. The fourth quarter D2 filings will give a complete picture of each PAC’s financial resources: itemized receipts, non-itemized receipts, all expenditures, and any investments. From now until the end of March, PACs will have to disclose only large receipts (of $1,000 or more) and, in the final 30 days before the election, independent expenditures.

 

ICPR is looking at campaign finance issues to track in the March primary. Earlier this week we looked at SuperPACs and contribution limits. Today, we’l looking at politically active non-profits, and their affect on disclosure.

 

Illinois has long allows any one or any thing to give to PACs. While some other states prohibit unions or corporations from giving, Illinois lets PACs accept money from any and all sources. These include non-profit entities.

 

Non-profits gather donations of money from other sources and funnel it to their particular purpose. By their nature, non-profits do not generate money from their own activities, but instead rely on contributions to support their goals. There is a thin line between non-profits and Political Action Committees, which also collect money from others for their purposes, even thinner when non-profits use money for political purposes. But that distinction is enough to shield the source of non-profit funds from public scrutiny, even when that money is used to speak to voters about candidates.

 

In October, 2010, a non-profit formed called For a Better Chicago. The non-profit raised so much money that about two months later, in December, 2010, it spawned a Political Action Committee, and transferred $800K from the non-profit to the PAC.

 

How did the non-profit generate so much money that it could decide to put $800K into a PAC barely 60 days after it formed? It was managed by a political consulting firm, and its reason for forming, as stated on its incorporation papers, was “political.” The PAC, fortified almost entirely with money from the non-profit, went on to become the largest single source of money for candidates in the 2011 Chicago aldermanic campaign. But the non-profit never had to reveal the original source of the funds in the PAC.

 

Chicago voters never learned who wash putting so much money into their aldermanic campaigns.

 

Illinois law used to require non-profits that engaged in politicking to disclose the source of their funds. When contribution limits took effect, that law was repealed, on the thinking that no one would go to that much trouble to hide the small amounts of money that a donor could legally give.  But now that SuperPACs are allowed to raise money without limits, politically active non-profits are back, along with other fundraising vehicles that can obscure the source of money, things like PACs that file with the FEC or in other states, and so don’t have to reveal the source of their funds until long after the polls close, if at all.

 

The bulk of funds raised by SuperPACs in the 2012 elections could not be traced back to original contributors, and the same game is afoot in 2014. Illinois should reinstate disclosure from politically active non-profits.

 

This week we’ve tried to cover some things that will be in the disclosure reports leading up to the primary (outsized contributions to candidates without well-funded opponents) and some things that won’t be in the reports (independent expenditures more than 30 days before the March primary, and the true source of funds raised through non-profits). There may be other issues that arise as well. Check back with ICPR for updates as the election progresses.