On a night last week when many were sitting at home watching the NCAA basketball tournament, 23 people gathered in the basement of St. Peters Church on Hannah Ave. to listen to a talk about campaign finance reform. David Morrison, the deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform spoke at a meeting organized by Citizens United for Forest Park (CUinFP).
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is a non-partisan group based in Chicago that was founded by the late Paul Simon, a United States Senator who was a Democrat and former Lieutenant Governor Bob Kustra, a Republican.
It is now funded by grants from foundations and the League of Women voters as well as contributions.
“Illinois is the wild, wild west of American politics,” said Morrison.
Most states have limits on campaign contributions, but Illinois does not.
“What we have here is disclosure and we have a very good disclosure system,” said Morrison. “Here in Illinois we have no restrictions on giving.”
In Illinois, once a candidate or group gives, raises or spends $3000, it must file a report to the state board of elections detailing its finances. If more than one third of the money comes from a single source that source must be mentioned in the name of a campaign committee.
Campaign committees must disclose all contributions in excess of $150. Morrison said that his group is pushing for more frequent disclosure as there often is a substantial lag between contributions and their disclosure.
Morrison said Illinois needs to establish limits on campaign contributions. “Transparency is vitally important, but it is not by itself adequate,” said Morrison. “We need to limit contributions.”
Morrison’s talk focused on state politics because that is where the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has focused its limited resources. However Morrison said that the group is looking to get more involved in county government and eventually local government.
Morrison emphasized that legislators, and all politicians, really do respond to constituent pressure. “Phone calls really do matter,” said Morrison.
Morrison also noted that local officials must file a statement of economic interest with the county clerk that details any financial interests they have in matters that might come before them.
CUinFP has been wrestling with the idea of asking local candidates to take a pledge in favor of reform.
“Our organization is trying to come up with some sort of pledge on public reform,’ said CUinFP President Steve Backman.
Audience members were concerned that mere campaign disclosure doesn’t go far enough. They were concerned about local officials voting on matters that might affect them financially, either directly or by benefiting campaign contributors.
Morrison noted that there is currently no legal requirement for public official to recuse themselves from votes on issues that may affect them financially.
He said that while campaign contributions do not always determine the outcome of elections it is always important to monitor from whom candidates are raising their money.
“You don’t need money to win,” said Morrison. “You can win without it. It’s still important to know where candidates get their money.”