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Political committees owe state $800K in fines

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SPRINGFIELD — A loss in next week's primary election doesn't mean the work's over for a campaign. If political committees don't file necessary paperwork, they will get hit with fines and compromise their candidates' eligibility for future races.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — A loss in next week's primary election doesn't mean the work's over for a campaign.

If political committees associated with candidates don't file necessary paperwork, they will get hit with fines and compromise their candidates' eligibility for future races.

The Illinois State Board of Elections, or ISBE, has 553 outstanding fines totaling $808,235.15 against political committees for either filing campaign finance reports late or violating Illinois' campaign finance laws. Fines date back to 2003 and range from $25 to $10,000.

"It's all up to the political committee to file the paperwork. Some people are better at filing on time; some people aren't," Andy Nauman, assistant director of the Division of Campaign Disclosure for the ISBE, said.

Nauman said generally a first-time violation is stayed, until a committee racks up a second fine, in which case both fines are levied. He added that the total amount of outstanding fines does not include cases being appealed.

Political committees are formed for fundraising in Illinois, both by candidates and others looking to spend money on campaigns.

Having outstanding fines doesn't carry a criminal penalty. Instead, outstanding fines for a candidate's committee render the candidate ineligible for election. For non-candidate committees, the penalty is an inability to get a raffle license to host raffle fundraisers, until their fines are paid.

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at University of Illinois at Springfield, said the committees are set up so the candidate is not liable. The state can't garnish a former candidate's paycheck, because their political committee owes a $225 fine.

Many times the fines rack up when the political life of candidate ends.

Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's political committee owes the ISBE $17,575 in fines. Stroger was ousted from his job in the 2010 election by current Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Carol Moseley Braun ran for mayor of Chicago last year and lost. Her political committee owes the state $750 in fines.

Calls and emails seeking comment from Braun's political committee by Illinois Statehouse News were not returned. There is no public listing for contact information for Stroger's political committee.

Alvin Parks Jr. is different from Stroger, Braun and most others on the list of fines. Parks won his last election and is the mayor East Saint Louis.

Parks' political committee has managed to rack up $19,425 in fines with the ISBE. All of his fines stem from late filings, except for one. A $2,500 fine has been assessed for violating a board order, which generally means a candidate or committee has somehow violated the campaign finance laws. The next mayor's race for East Saint Louis isn't until 2015, so Parks has three years to pay up.

Nauman said that while a committee's candidate isn't personally liable for the fines, if a candidate creates a new committee, he is still ineligible for office until the fines of the previous committee are paid.

Parks failed to return several calls and emails to Illinois Statehouse News for comment on his fines.

All fines collected by the ISBE go into the state's general revenue fund. Redfield said committees generally pay fines to avoid the appearance of poor management rather than threat of punishment.

"As a practical matter, there isn't much the ISBE can do to collect them" besides ask politely, he said.

Fines were not instituted as a way to raise revenue for the state, but to make sure political committees reported their finances in a timely matter. The quicker and more accurate a committee reports campaign finances, the more transparent the whole election process is, Redfield said.

"Just like everything else in life, if you make it voluntary most people are going to comply and some people aren't. So you have to make it mandatory and you have to have some ways of putting pressure on people," Redfield said.

Related document

ISBE fines list

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