The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform seems to think that accepting $27,199.31 from local alcohol-licensed businesses while serving as liquor commissioner is a questionable practice.
Last week, the Forest Park Review ran an article on Mayor Anthony Calderone’s 12-year practice of taking campaign donations from businesses whose applications he approves as liquor commissioner. The mayor decides what is included on the village council agenda and also votes on those matters as a board member.
Our article, “Mayor licenses bars and collects campaign donations,” was posted on ICPR’s website, www.ilcampaign.org/taxonomy/term/53. The Campaign for Political Reform is a nonprofit government watchdog group.
When asked if those donations could lead to potential conflicts of interest, the mayor said, “I don’t think so.” He noted that the suggestion was a “conspiracy theory.”
While the mayor isn’t doing anything illegal, he didn’t say whether he thought accepting the donations is ethical. Instead, he likened the contributions to both “God-given rights” and “American rights” that businesses have to donate.
Those rights are neither a gift from “God,” nor are they specifically outlined by federal law. Liquor establishments can donate to Liquor Commissioner Calderone because Illinois has flimsy campaign finance laws. This is not his fault, and he noted that.
“The state statute says the mayor shall serve as liquor commissioner,” he said.
Yes, but there is no state law requiring the mayor to take money from businesses whose operations depend to a large extent on his authority as the village’s chief.
The Forest Park liquor commissioner has the power to investigate, fine, and suspend or revoke the license of any establishment that is in violation of the law, following a hearing.
In 12 years, Calderone said he could recall “one, or more than one” instances in which liquor establishments were fined. He also said police perform stings to weed out underage drinkers (which is a violation of village code as well as state and federal laws.)
He did not specify how long the police have been conducting the stings. But in 12 years, only “one, or more than one” underage kid was caught trying to sneak a drink in all of Forest Park’s bars?
Wouldn’t underage drinking warrant the aforementioned punitive actions?
It’s also difficult to believe the mayor would have a hard time remembering any of the liquor establishments that donated to his campaign committees, as he recently told the Review.
“If you were to ask me today who’s donating to my campaign, I couldn’t tell you,” he said. Well, several bars and restaurants contributed thousands of dollars in food and drink for political campaign events.
We’re not crying foul. We’re just pointing out how this might be perceived. Forest Park is a small town, but the mayor has a responsibility to avoid appearing too cozy.