Council candidates split over campaign finance

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By Bob Skolnik

The eight candidates for village council have split themselves on whether to sign a campaign finance pledge developed by the activist group Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP).

Four candidates, Carl Nyberg, John Plepel, Marty Tellalian, and Jerry Webster, signed the pledge. The remaining four candidates, incumbent Commissioner Mark Hosty, Michael Curry, Rory Hoskins, and Anthony Lazzara, did not sign the document.

"I think it's important to have limits," Webster said. "Maybe not so much from people inside the town; but from people from outside the town."

Webster said he is not seeking contributions and plans on funding his own campaign.

The pledge, unanimously approved by CUinFP's membership last summer, bans candidates from soliciting village employees for campaign contributions. Those employees who offer a donation should be limited to $200.

A contribution of more than $500 from any company that does business with the village is prohibited.

It also calls for candidates not to accept contributions greater than $100 from non-residents, and that candidates not accept any contribution from a non-resident of Forest Park who is seeking a zoning change in Forest Park for at least 12 months from the decision on the zoning change.

"What I like about the pledge was that it was a local effort at campaign finance reform," Nyberg said. "It's a type of campaign finance reform that has its origins in the community, not from elected officials."

Nyberg is a former columnist for the Forest Park Review.

Tellalian signed the pledge even though he said the $100 limit on contributions from non-residents was too strict.

"I agree with essentially all the items," Tellalian said. "I do not think it's appropriate for someone doing business with the village to contribute to a campaign. I think it's an inherent conflict of interest. I wouldn't accept any contribution from anyone doing business with the village. I do think family members (who live outside of Forest Park) should be able to help more."

Plepel, who also said he was planning to finance his own campaign, said the pledge made sense to him.

"I agree with the intention of it," Plepel said.

Hosty, who makes no secret of his dislike for CUinFP President Steve Backman, said it was an easy decision for him not to sign on.

"I will not sign anything Steve Backman puts forward," Hosty said. "I don't understand why anyone pays attention to him. I think this is another attempt to dictate what those who are involved can do while not stepping up into the arena himself. I didn't even read it. I adhere to the state of Illinois campaign finance regulations. That's good enough for every other candidate in the state."

Illinois law does not put any limit on the size of campaign contributions to state and local candidates but does require the itemized disclosure of every contribution of $150 or more. Unlike Illinois law, CUinFP's proposal is not legally binding.

Curry, a lawyer and the current chairman of the zoning board of appeals, said he supports the goals of the pledge, but for a first time candidate the limits are too restrictive.

"I think what CUinFP is doing is great, but signing the pledge puts me at a disadvantage as a non-incumbent," Curry said. "I just don't want to limit myself. If some of the businesses I represent in my law firm want to contribute I'd like to be able to accept their donation."

Hoskins said simply that he was advised by his lawyer not to sign the pledge.

"My counsel advised me not to sign it," Hoskins said. "He advised me to follow existing law. I just had a basic inclination not to sign the pledge. I just think it would set a precedent. If you sign one group's pledge then other groups will want you to sign their pledges."

As a new candidate, Lazzara said he wasn't ready to sign the pledge.

"Basically I think that Mr. Backman has good intentions," Lazzara said. "But because I've never run before I'm relying on the laws that are in place. I don't want to cause myself problems by signing something like that. I chose to sit back and rely on the laws that are already in place. I do appreciate the reasons for Mr. Backman's document."

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