A campaign financing pledge which the group Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP) is hoping that candidates for office in next April’s election will sign is receiving mixed reviews from current elected officials.
The pledge would ban candidates from soliciting campaign contributions from village employees, but would allow village employees to contribute up to $200 to their preferred candidate’s campaign.
“Long before I got involved with this group, I’d hear employees say ‘I was pressured to contribute to so and so official,” said Mary Kay Minaghan, who led a meeting to discuss the pledge last Thursday evening at St. Peter’s Church, 500 Hannah Ave. “We want to prevent that, but protect employees. Just because I’m employed [by the village] doesn’t mean I don’t have the same right as anyone to petition my government.”
The pledge would prevent candidates from accepting contributions of over $500 from businesses or business people hoping to do business with the village and would ban contributions from zoning applicants within 12 months of the village council taking action on their application (Forest Park residents would be excluded from this restriction).
Finally, it would ban contributions of over $100 from businesses or individuals located outside Forest Park.
“If I went and gave my boss $500, I wouldn’t expect to be treated objectively when I went for a raise or promotion. That shouldn’t happen in government either, but that’s how it is,” said CUinFP member Ken Snyder.
Village Commissioner Terry Steinbach said she supported the pledge. “Yes, I am in agreement with the goals of the campaign financing pledge, to keep government local,” she said. Steinbach suggested that CUinFP add restrictions on candidates doing business outside of the village with companies that seek to do business with the village.
In her last bid for election, Steinbach did not spend the $3,000 minimum that obligates a candidate to file a campaign funding disclosure with the state.
Commissioner Patrick Doolin also said he supported the idea behind the pledge but said he had some questions about the specifics that he would like to discuss with CUinFP officials before deciding whether he would sign on if he were to run for office. Doolin, according to state records, currently has $32.73 in his campaign fund. His last campaign was funded mostly with $18,508 of his own money.
Predictably, members of the village council’s majority were less supportive of the pledge than their opposition. Though CUinFP presents itself as an apolitical organization, the majority commissioners have often said they see the group and its president, Steven Backman, as being politically motivated and opposed to them.
Commissioner Mark Hosty had the strongest words in response to the proposed pledge, which was e-mailed to the commissioners by Backman last Friday. “I received an e-mail from Steve Backman, glanced at it briefly and gave it about as much attention as anything I receive from Steve Backman,” he said. “I find everything he does to be self serving and I don’t trust anything coming from him.” Hosty said he felt that the state regulations currently on the books are adequate in regulating campaign fundraising.
Commissioner Tim Gillian said he felt that CUinFP was overstepping its bounds. “I’m not convinced that CUinFP should be a regulating factor in local elections until they are appointed by the state,” he said. “Maybe I’d abide by [the pledge] but not because of anything they said I should do.”
Gillian was not required to file a funding disclosure in his last campaign. Hosty currently has $3,320 in his campaign fund, according to state records.
None of the commissioners have made official announcements regarding their intentions in next year’s elections.
Though his name was not mentioned at CUinFP’s meeting last week, many of the concerns expressed seemed to relate to the campaign funding of Mayor Anthony Calderone, who currently has $30,700 in his campaign fund. As recently as last year, he had over $65,000 in his fund.
“It’s certainly a David and Goliath scenario. Anyone emerging to challenge the mayor, if he decides to seek reelection, is certainly already in a weaker position,” said Doolin.
Minaghan seemed concerned about the portion of the money raised that comes from outside of Forest Park. “If I’m taking half my money from businesses outside of town that have nothing to do with the town, there’s got to be an agenda,” she said.
Calderone said that though he has friends and associates all over, his focus is on the concerns of local residents. “I suppose someone from an outside perspective could see things that way, but personally as someone who was born and raised and has continued to stay in Forest Park there’s no reason in the past, present or future to not be concerned about Forest Park,” he said.
He said that his campaign fundraising is handled by a committee of volunteers and that it had been “several years” since he looked over his contributor list. He said he suspected that most of his out of town contributions are “probably out of friendship” or from people who have no specific interest in the town but believe he would make a good elected official.
Minaghan, a lobbyist who works in city and county government and ran for state senate in 1998, has made over 40 campaign contributions herself since 1998, according to state records, but said she does not contribute with the expectation of getting anything in return.
“Most of the people I contribute to are not in a position to affect my clients or me personally,” she said, stating that she contributes to candidates she feels will make good leaders and share her positions on the issues she values.
Calderone said that he thought restricting contributions may give an unfair advantage to wealthier candidates. Unlike Doolin, he said, “I don’t have the kind of loose change laying around that it takes to run a campaign.”
“Unless you’re independently wealthy, which I’m not, and if I was I’d say forget the fundraising, because it’s a lot of work. There’s going to be expenses in order to run an effective campaign. If you want to level the playing field you do it on the expense side by putting a cap on what you can spend,” he said.
Some of Calderone’s feelings were echoed at the meeting by CUinFP member Chris Miller, though he eventually went along with the unanimous vote to support the pledge.
“Let’s say I have no money and my brother in Tennessee is a millionaire, and now he can’t give me more than $100. What if I’m running against a rich guy?” he asked, suggesting that CUinFP give candidates the option of signing onto only parts of the pledge if they feel it is too restrictive.
Snyder, along with other CUinFP members, insisted that the pledge was all or nothing. “If you’re funded by your brother from out of town there’s a legitimate issue with whose interests you’re going to be serving,” he said.