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Question of the day

Thursday, Jun 27, 2013

* We’ve talked about this loophole before, but Tom Kasich wrote about it not long ago

What campaign committees do is collect dozens of fat checks, let them sit for weeks or months, then deposit them in a bank on one day and report them within five business days.

That, in fact, is what Citizens for Lisa Madigan did in the first quarter of the year. It disclosed 198 separate contributions of $1,000 or more all at once, on April 5. The checks had been deposited on March 29.

Ditto Taxpayers for Quinn. The governor’s campaign fund reported 112 contributions of $1,000 or more, including $20,000 from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, on April 2. But the trial lawyers reported that the donation was made on March 20.

Madigan’s campaign, for its part, said it reports contributions in one big batch so that it can thoroughly vet all donations and return any checks that create potential ethical problems.

And lawmakers, at the time a new campaign disclosure law was being discussed in 2009, said they wanted to avoid problems with checks that were sent to post office boxes but may have go uncollected for days or weeks.

“Legislators were upset about it — they felt there was the potential for ‘gotcha moments’ — a check in a post office box, and they would get fined for not checking a post office box,” said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “I don’t know how often that actually happened. I think they might have been inflating the problem a bit.”

So the law was written to allow campaign committees to sit on contributions for long periods, although they also could disclose them quickly. A law that supposedly was written to foster public disclosure and benefit voters ends up favoring the pols.

“That means that the committee gets to determine when the public finds out about when they received money,” Morrison said. “In the context of an election, it means that a committee can have the check and know the money is in hand, but not tell voters about it until the polls are closed. That’s a very dangerous precedent.

“At the time, the folks in the Legislature said, ‘No, no, no. People won’t actually play that game. Trust us on this.’ I don’t know that that’s true. I think we are seeing some gamesmanship.”

Pretty much everybody is doing this except Bruce Rauner, who is spending money and therefore needs to deposit the checks right away, and Bill Daley, who wants to show he’s viable.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel just reported $470K on a signle A-1, for example.

* The Question: Should Illinois law be changed to require reporting campaign contribution checks within a few days of their actual receipt, rather than after their deposit in a bank account? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.

free polls

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Shore - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:01 pm:

    The senate approved the nomination of the guy that replaces Ray Lahood which means after 60 remarkable years, the michel/lahood era ends in dc. I don’t care for lahood or his brand of republicanism, but they were an important part of an era of history and deserve more than a link in a round up when he packs his boxes in the next few days.

  2. - Been There - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:03 pm:

    I think the law should be changed that you cannot hold onto indefinitely. But there should be a limit but not too soon. Maybe a week to two weeks tops.

  3. - Empty Chair - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:04 pm:

    If they have to report all of the information upon (or near) deposit re: the donor, what difference does it make when they deposit the check. They can’t spend that donor’s money until they deposit it.

  4. - Come on man! - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:09 pm:

    With the way checks come in it is just more efficient to sit on checks and file at once. Also, how do you prove what day you received the check?

  5. - Anon III - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:17 pm:

    “Morrison said. “In the context of an election, it means that a committee can have the check and know the money is in hand, but not tell voters about it until the polls are closed. That’s a very dangerous precedent.””

    Where have you been, Dave? Twenty – five years ago, a veteran D. State Rep. & opponent of a campaign with which I was associated, deposited a couple of fat checks, including one from the NRA, days before the election so that they never saw any “sunshine” until after the poles were closed & the votes counted.

    But Campaign disclosure has little effect if there is no real contest. In the above case, I’m confident the incumbent would have prevailed even if he had timely reported the check, or even 100 such checks.

  6. - J - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:19 pm:

    It is worth noting that the current system allows campaigns to decide whether or not they want to take a specific check instead of forcing them to make a decision within an artificial timeline.

    So for those who vet checks, this system is pretty important.

  7. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:19 pm:

    Yes, this a campaign equivalent of a late-Friday- afternoon news dump. The motivation is to generate as little scrutiny as possible.

    –Madigan’s campaign, for its part, said it reports contributions in one big batch so that it can thoroughly vet all donations and return any checks that create potential ethical problems.–

    Ugh. Don’t treat people like they’re stupid. Are we to believe that the overwhelming majority of big donors are not well known to the campaign? That they have not been solicited many times?

  8. - Chicago Cynic - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:19 pm:

    Change it absolutely. Otherwise what’s the point of the law - might as well just have quarterly reporting. Sure there will be some enforcement challenges (when did you really receive it), but commercial contracts solve the problem with a presumption of receipt standard. Something like that could be created.

  9. - CircularFiringSquad - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:22 pm:

    No change needed. The idea of taking time to vet checks makes a great deal of sense. If all were more rapidly disclosed, some questions might be missed and then Mr Kasich and kronies would bang away. Actually TOm would only bang Ds. We are still waiting for them to really cover the 2012 money laundering by the ReBooters and RapidRodney
    Wonder if Kasich has a column in him on that little shindig?

  10. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:30 pm:

    Just change the banking laws so that checks made payable to a political campaign expire after five business days. ;-)

  11. - Amuzing Myself - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:40 pm:

    Absolutely Yes. The intent of the law is public disclosure. As usual, politicians found a loophole that allows them to skirt disclosure temporarily. Fix the loophole. This is an easy one.

  12. - Bemac - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:42 pm:

    Campaign finance bill doesn’t work as promised.

    Dog bites man.

  13. - walkinfool - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 2:43 pm:


    Obviously not, since there is no verifiable or auditable way for a third party to establish the actual date of receipt — like there is for a date of deposit. If you want enforceable rules, this is the way it must be done. With such tight time standards at certain points in a campaign, a presumption of receipt period won’t help.

    The funds are also not available for the campaign until deposited, but that is of secondary importance.

    BTW, we once received a substantial campaign check in the mail, eight weeks after the check was written and postmarked. The reporting requirement was 48 hrs. Who would prove what in that case?

  14. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 3:07 pm:

    Make em take PayPal, instant transfer!

  15. - zatoichi - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 3:18 pm:

    Check ain’t money until it is desposited. How are you going to prove when a check arrived? Someone wants to hold on to those checks for two months? It is obviously an attempt to get around the rules or odd bookkeeping. Either way allows for plots of cheating or laziness depending on the column writer/pundit’s feelings that day. Still not usable until it is deposited.

  16. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 3:27 pm:

    I voted no, but I don’t feel too strongly about it. The current system is a pain in the butt, so I’d rather keep it than start a new process that becomes an even greater headache to manage.

    Yes, I’m biased because I’m often on the disclosing side as opposed to the public info/sunshine side. I get why the other side wants the info instantly. Heck, I want to know immediately if the Koch brothers drop big money into a race. I get it.

    But what’s to stop a campaign from borrowing money for a media buy through election day, then raising money from politically incorrect donors afterward to pay off the loan? You don’t think that’ll happen, or that there will be another way to shield this info?

    Either pass public finance or keep in place reasonable rules. Trust me, there are a lot of smart people on campaigns who can find a way around almost any rule you can think of.

  17. - Robert the Bruce - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 3:53 pm:

    Close call but voted no. There are some legitimate administrative concerns with “a few days” - in my experience, here’s what happens: donor gives finance guy or the candidate a big check on, say, a Thursday night, the candidate/finance guy doesn’t necessarily see the admin/volunteer/intern to enter the information into the database until Monday. Nothing sinister going on, but you’ve just eaten up three days. (and that’s assuming the person doing the vetting finds out about the donation in time to vet really quickly) So I don’t blame some candidates for choosing to hold off and depositing when you know the data entry person is available. 10 days might be a more reasonable standard. But no matter what is passed, there’s ways around it for the unsavory.

  18. - DanL60 - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 4:27 pm:

    No. Gut feeling is campaigns would find another work-around in short order.

  19. - dupage dan - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 4:53 pm:

    I said change it. However, I have little faith that when we ask the foxes to fix the fence to the chicken coop that they won’t just put another door in it.

  20. - Liandro - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 4:54 pm:

    I voted no. When I ran for office, I got checks dated for days earlier, and I sure didn’t have time to check the P.O. Box every day. Would candidates get docked for those scenarios? If not, how would it be enforceable? Honor system? I sympathize with the need for sunshine, but I’d have to see a law that was actually feasible/enforceable before jumping on board.

  21. - Mr. Jim Lahey - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 7:14 pm:

    If you change the laws campaigns will just start having people post date the check.

  22. - Just The Way It Is One - Thursday, Jun 27, 13 @ 8:24 pm:

    Well, at the time, Legislators may’ve said “no, no, no,” it won’t happen, but clearly their ACtions (which as we all know speak LOUDer than words) are saying “YES, YES, YES!!!” So Yes is obviously how THIS One voted…!

  23. - Observing - Friday, Jun 28, 13 @ 6:59 am:

    If lobbyists must report their expenditures on officials within 2 weeks, then candidate committees should be held to at least that standard.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

* Reader comments closed until Tuesday
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