DuPage County revamped its ethics ordinance this week, raising the limit on personal campaign contributions from vendors and those seeking appointments to county boards and commissions.
County Board member Liz Chaplin was the lone vote against raising the limit on personal campaign contributions from $1,000 to $5,300 per election cycle for both vendors and job seekers. She said the county needs to avoid even the appearance of a “pay to play” style of government in DuPage.
“A thousand dollars should be fine,” she said during the Finance Committee meeting before the regular board meeting.
At issue is whether the DuPage Ethics Ordinance is in compliance with state law governing campaign contributions. When it was passed in 2010, DuPage’s ordinance set the limit at $1,000 for both vendors and those seeking appointments. But state legislation was passed on the issue in 2011 and a recent review of the county’s ordinance determined that DuPage County didn’t have the authority to supersede the newer state ordinance.
Chaplin pointed to the opinion of David Morrison of Illinois Campaign for Reform, whom she noted worked on the state’s legislation and has been quoted in recent press accounts as disagreeing with the opinion that DuPage didn’t have legal authority to set its own campaign contribution limits.
But Assistant State’s Attorney Nancy Wolfe was adamant that the county was on shaky legal ground deviating from state law.
“No authority has been granted to DuPage (to set the limit),” she said, stressing that those wishing to donate to campaigns had rights. “This law protects the First Amendment rights of potential donors.”
Most of the committee members agreed with Wolfe and ethics subcommittee chairman John Curran, who said, “It does not grant us the authority.”
County Board member Robert Larsen echoed his comments, saying simply, “the law is the law.”
The debate continued at the full board meeting, with Maryam Judar of the Citizen’s Resource Center saying, “I don’t think it is clear that DuPage County as a Home Rule Community (didn’t have the authority),” she said while urging the board to wait for a further review from the state’s attorney. “A couple more weeks won’t hurt.”
Several other citizens urged the board to keep the limit at $1,000, but when County Board member Charles Grasso asked for a legal opinion to again clarify the matter of whether DuPage was within its rights setting a different limit, Wolfe again stated the State’s Attorney’s Office opinion.
“The legislature has set limits on campaign contributions and not given any authority (to DuPage),” she said.
County Board member Jim Zay pointed out that the state legislation of 2011 was prompted by corruption in other parts of the state, particularly Cook County and the office of imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
He strongly defended the political culture of DuPage County.
“We run a good government,” Zay said. “We elect good people in DuPage County.”
County Board member Lauren Nowak suggested that if the county’s ethics ordinance was invalid, a legislative remedy might be in order, suggesting that the county use its lobbyists to advocate for a change to the state ordinance.
Ultimately, Nowak agreed with the majority opinion and joined 15 other colleagues to approve the change.
Chaplin had some consolation in the board agreeing to let the State’s Attorney’s Office review the matter again.
“Im glad it’s going to the state’s attorney,” she said.