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Thursday, May 6, 2010 10:10 am

Election board owed $585,000 in unpaid fines

Click for a searchable PDF of all fines as of 5-5-2010: http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/file-45-.pdf

More than a half million dollars in unpaid fines have yet to be collected by the State Board of Elections for violations of state election law.

Many of the 477 delinquent fines are several years old, totaling $585,623.75. The fines were issued to political action committees (PACs) and candidate committees for late registration, submitting late reports on campaign donations or violating board orders. The board has discretion on whether to issue fines and for how much. The fine is generally $25 per infraction per day for local candidates and $50 for candidates seeking statewide office.

Locally, the Sangamon County Democratic Minority Caucus owes $775 for filing four late reports in 2007 and 2008. Doris Turner, chairwoman of the committee, could not be reached for comment.

Two currently-serving Chicago aldermen have unpaid fines, one of them racking up nearly two dozen infractions. Alderman Ed Smith, who represents Chicago’s 28th ward, owes $24,750 to the election board for 22 violations in 2008 and another in 2009. Alderman Willie Cochran, representing the 20th ward, owes $775 for four late filings in 2008. An alderman hopeful, Leroy J. Jones, Jr., who sought the 21st ward seat in 2007, has the most infractions of any name on the list with 26, totaling $10,127.49 in fines.

Among the other big fine holders is the Illinois Business PAC (Political Action Committee), with $17,7500 for six fines dating from 2005, 2008 and 2009. Citizens to Elect David Webb, mayor of Markham, west of Jacksonville, has four unpaid fines totaling $20,000. A group ironically named the Citizens for Honest Government owes $6,500 for filing three late donation reports.

The oldest unpaid fine of $125 dates back to 1999, issued to the campaign committee of James Gonzales, who sought the office of commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in Chicago in 1998.

Rupert Borgsmiller, assistant executive director of the State Board of Elections, says any fines collected go into the Illinois General Revenue Fund, and all violators have been notified of their fines, but collecting the fines “gets really sticky.”

Though the elections board can enforce fines through an order from a circuit court, there is no personal liability attached to political action committees, he explains. That means a PAC may bear a candidate’s name, but the candidate and PAC officers have no personal obligation to pay the fine.

Borgsmiller stopped short of calling for a personal liability provision in the law, however.

“These are basically voluntary organizations that spring up to get involved in the process,” he says. “Creating a burden of personal liability on them might have a negative effect on getting people involved.”

Borgsmiller says committees that go out of existence while owing fines two years have their fines removed, and recent changes to the law will prevent candidates whose candidate committees owe fines from being certified on election ballots starting in 2011, though the change will not apply to PACs. Previously, the elections board only had oversight over candidates registering with them, he says, but the changed law will give the board oversight for the 110 election authorities operating independently in the state.

“They’re all political committees, but there’s different types of political committees,” he says. “With the way the law has been changed, there will be a different twist to it come January 1.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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