New York Times: Records Reveal Holes in Campaign-Finance Law

Written by admin on March 13th, 2011

Chicago’s Mayoral race shows how rapidly loopholes in campaign finance laws are exploited.

New York Times

A review of campaign-finance reports found that loopholes in the new regulations on political donations emerged almost immediately.

The campaign for mayor became the test case for how a “how a state that is reform-averse adapts to reform,” said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonprofit based in Chicago that helped draft the law.

“It’s not like this is Vermont or Minnesota,” Ms. Canary added.

The new law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, in the middle of the race to succeed Mayor Richard M. Daley, capped donations in Illinois campaigns for the first time. But the mayoral campaign exposed some of the reform effort’s shortcomings.

In the case of Mr. Chico and the Puigs, campaign-finance reports show that Mr. Chico, a former school board president, received $5,000 from each of four Puig-run businesses at a building on the Near North Side. A fifth $5,000 came from a Puig company that the Chico campaign listed at an address in Lincolnwood, though state records place the business in the same building as the other four companies, on West Willow Street. The sixth $5,000 donation on Feb. 3 came from a Puig company at another address on the Near North Side.

Luis Puig Jr. said he and other family members jointly own all six of the entities that made the donations. He said he was unaware of the new state law and had not structured the donations to get around the limits.

“Our bank accounts were not that big, so we took a little from each company” and gave it to Mr. Chico, Mr. Puig said. “He is our attorney, when people owe us money. His daughter and our daughter went to school together in Edgebrook.”

Ms. Canary said the Puigs’ donations appeared to be legal because the authors of the new law had not drafted language that clearly addressed situations in which closely related companies make multiple donations to the same candidate. The contributions from the Puig companies “violate the spirit of what we were trying to do,” she said, adding, “We need to figure out how to address that.”

Until the law changed, Illinois was among the few states that placed no limits on the size of contributions, a situation that many reformers tied to the state’s sordid political culture.

Illinois is one of the only places in America where literally anyone can walk in the door and spend whatever they want to influence the outcome of an election,” according to a 2007 report from the Brennan Center for Justice and New York University School of Law. “The system is almost an open invitation to corruption.”


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