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updated: 8/20/2013 8:04 PM

DuPage considers ethics revisions allowing bigger campaign donations

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Proposed revisions to DuPage County's ethics law would allow county board members and the board chairman to accept more campaign donations from companies and consultants doing or seeking county government work.

The county board next week is expected to vote on the changes, drafted by a subcommittee after DuPage's ethics adviser found several issues with the existing ordinance.

One revision the subcommittee is recommending is to have DuPage align its ethics law with state law when it comes to restrictions on campaign contributions.

DuPage's existing ethics law limits campaign contributions from companies, as well as officers and owners of those entities, to $1,000 a year. The cap also applies to any individual appointed or applying for appointment to serve on a board, commission, authority, task force or advisory committee.

Under state law, the limit for those entities and individuals is $5,300 each election cycle. An election cycle can be two or four years.

Officials said the only reason DuPage has a different cap is state lawmakers didn't adopt campaign finance reform until 2011 -- one year after DuPage adopted its restriction.

"We had passed a separate standard here because there were no (state) regulations back when we addressed it," said board member John Curran, who serves as chairman of the ethics ordinance subcommittee.

"If we knew back in 2010 what the state was going to do in 2011, we would have adopted that," he said.

Still, board member Elizabeth Chaplin said she's opposed to seeing the cap on contributions increased.

"I thought DuPage County always tried to have a higher ethical standard than the state," she said.

Curran said the county doesn't have a choice because the state has jurisdiction.

"We don't have an option," he said. "We have to comply with the state. So it made sense for us to mirror ours with the state."

DuPage's ethics ordinance doesn't apply to countywide elected officials, including the sheriff, county clerk and treasurer.

Ethics complaints are handled by an appointed five-member commission and an appointed investigator general.

The investigator general receives and conducts the initial review of each complaint. He also acts as a prosecutor of a complaint if a hearing is conducted.

One proposed change to the ethics policy would require the county board chairman to get the advice and consent of the board before removing an ethics commissioner, an investigator general or an ethics adviser. Right now, the chairman can dismiss those individuals without first involving board members.

"In the five years I've been on the board here under two separate chairmen, it's been a constant balance of the powers and duties of the board and the powers and duties of the chairman," Curran said. "This is an area where I believe the powers and the duties of the chairman were maybe a little too encompassing."

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