WILMETTE - Local elections are next Tuesday, and this campaign season there seems to be a new awareness of campaign efforts in city and village, as well as school board races.
At least Illinois Review is hearing more than ever from frustrated taxpayers that want attention paid to their area's hot races.
Last week, longtime IR contributor Mark Weyermuller wrote about filing a complaint with the Board of Elections about a slate of candidates called "Wilmette Friends" whose professionally-made yard signs, literature and door hangers don't identify their financial sources.
Within a few days of Weyermuller's article and his complaint filing, "Wilmette Friends" responded to Weyermuller's complaint on their website, saying, "Weyermuller’s claims are baseless and misleading. Illinois election law requires a group to file as a PAC (political action committee) if and only if it has received or spent more than $5000. Wilmette Friends has not crossed the $5000 threshold. Weyermuller has no support for his false claims to the contrary."
Indeed, none of Wilmette Friends' materials reveal how the organization paid for them.
Only the website posts a copyright insignia and "Paid for by Wilmette Friends" - but no such organization is listed with the Illinois State Board of Elections because, the group says, they haven't crossed the $5000 threshold.
Illinois election law requires literature to include the "Paid by ..." information. It is unclear in the election law as to how so-called "in-kind" contributions and their values are to be reported. There is also no way to find if involved individuals are directly paying campaign vendors such as sign and literature printers.
The $5000 threshold to register as a political action committee is consistent throughout the state's election statutes. From the State Board of Elections' candidate handbook:
“Political action committee” means any natural person, trust, partnership, committee, association, corporation, or other organization or group of persons, other than a candidate, political party, candidate political committee, or political party committee, that accepts contributions or makes expenditures during any 12-month period in an aggregate amount exceeding $5,000 on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate or candidates for public office.
“Political action committee” includes any natural person, trust, partnership, committee, association, corporation, or other organization or group of persons, other than a candidate, political party, candidate political committee, or political party committee, that makes electioneering communications during any 12-month period in an aggregate amount exceeding $5,000 related to any candidate or candidates for public office.
Daniel Kelley, an attorney that helped Weyermuller file his complaint, wrote in the Chicago Daily Observer March 24:
After mass producing fliers, handbills, yard signs, all of which were custom printed, maintaining a professional web site and retaining the services of a political consultant, can any one question that the Wilmette Friends have exceeded the $5,000.00 threshold for the current election cycle (April 4, 2017), not to mention previous elections? Even if the materials and services were donated there is an obligation to report “in kind contributions.” But the has been no reporting whatsoever.
All political committees are obligated to include disclosures and notices in their political communications and printed materials: “A copy of our report filed with the State Board of Elections is (or will be) available on the Board’s official or for purchase from the State Board of Elections, Springfield, Illinois.”
But you'll not find that wording on the Wilmette Friends literature because they insist they have not raised or expended more than $5000.