By Paul Gorski
I’m writing this article in response to “Keepin’ it Kleen: New Illinois campaign finance law reduces transparency” from the Oct. 16-22 issue. The bill Michael Kleen is referring to is now Illinois Public Act 098-0115 and may be found online here: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/98/098-0115.htm. I’d like to address and/or correct a few items noted in his column.
The focus of Kleen’s article is the raising of the limit, from $3,000 to $5,000 in one year’s time, that requires a campaign to register as a political committee with the State Board of Elections. Kleen makes the mistake, as many do, that the new limit allows a new candidate to raise $4,999 and not report it. That is only partially true. The $5,000 limit is an aggregate, incoming and outgoing. If you raise $4,999 and don’t spend any of that money, true, you wouldn’t have to report it. But if you spend just $1, you’ve met the threshold. So, you should think of the limit as $2,500 in and $2,500 out, whereas the old limits were $1,500 in and $1,500 out.
Some people interpret the law differently, but the law does state that reporting is required when a committee: “accepts contributions or makes expenditures during any 12-month period in an aggregate amount exceeding $5,000 on behalf of the candidate.” I’ve seen interpretations of this law from various sources, including the State Board of Elections. I suggest candidates err on the side of the “aggregate” interpretation, as noted in the new law.
While the new limit does favor new candidates in smaller races, and perhaps a few candidates won’t register their committees, filing your contributions and expenditures does have its benefits. Only recognized political committees may raise money through raffles and other games of chance. Also, having a recognized political committee on file, with a record of sizable donations, only helps get more sizable donations. Money follows money, but you knew that already.
The primary focus of the new law was not campaign finance reform, but rather, online voter registration and making it easier for Illinois voters to register to vote. There were also quite a few changes to the code regarding provisional ballot and automated tabulating machines. Correcting and clarifying when and how residents may vote are big pluses in my book.
I wrote a series of articles regarding online voter registration, the most recent article being: “Meet John Doe: Online voter registration is a bad idea, part 3” from the Aug. 7-13 issue, online at: http://rockrivertimes.com/2013/08/07/meet-john-doe-online-voter-registration-is-a-bad-idea-part-3/. I’m not going to repeat my past discussion, but I will say that the new online voter registration law was a welcome sight to some election reform advocates, as well a few readers of this paper.
I would like to see changes to election law that would make it easier for independent and third-party candidates to get on the ballot. “Equal ballot access” reform is crucial to restoring faith in our electoral process, as the current process appears to many to be a “rigged” game.
I do applaud Michael Kleen for bringing attention to this matter. I, too, believe we need more transparency with regard to elections, campaign financing and government spending. Only when we can see who is making the contributions and where our public tax dollars are being spent can we adequately assess how “big” money influences our political system.
Paul Gorski (http://www.paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.
From the Oct. 23-29, 2013, issue