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updated: 8/26/2013 2:07 PM

Group: DuPage County doesn't need higher campaign donation cap

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  • Elizabeth Chaplin

      Elizabeth Chaplin

 
 

If DuPage County Board members allow themselves to accept more money from campaign donors doing or seeking county government work, it won't be because an existing cap on contributions is unenforceable, according to a government watchdog group.

The county board is expected to vote Tuesday night on a list of revisions to DuPage's ethics law. One of those proposed changes deals with the amount of campaign contributions county board members and the county board chairman can receive.

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

In a move that's being highly criticized by at least one member, the county board might repeal the local limit and adopt campaign contribution limits set by the state. Under state law, individuals and entities can donate up to $5,300 to a candidate during each election cycle. An election cycle can be two or four years.

"It's shameful," said board member Elizabeth Chaplin, who is opposed to seeing the cap on contributions increased. "It's going backward, not forward."

Board member John Curran, who serves as chairman of the ethics ordinance subcommittee, has said DuPage might have to mirror the state's campaign contribution restrictions because the county doesn't have home-rule powers.

"Quite frankly, I might have something on the books that's not enforceable," Curran said last week after the subcommittee recommended the changes.

However, officials with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform insist DuPage doesn't need to modify its existing cap on campaign contributions. While the state has set a maximum amount any donor can give, it doesn't restrict the ability of other units of government to set lower limits "for donors whose giving might be of special concern," they said.

"The county can continue to set a lower limit for vendors, just as many units of government did before there were any contribution limits in state law," said David Morrison, the group's deputy director.

Morrison said DuPage's lack of home-rule powers shouldn't prevent it from setting lower limits. He said the county could, through its procurement system, require vendors to promise not to give more than a set amount to candidates for offices that might have a role in the issuance of their contracts.

"Special rules for campaign donations by county vendors are a useful way to assure the public that taxpayer funds are not being spent to reward political contributors," Morrison said.

Whether DuPage is required to make a change or not, officials say it's "inherently flawed" for the county to have a yearly cap when the state imposes a per election limit.

"We currently have two standards," county spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said. "The board will consider making a change."

The county board's finance committee is scheduled to review all the proposed changes to the ethics ordinance when it meets 6 p.m. Tuesday in the board room at the DuPage administration building, 421 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton. The regular board meeting is slated for 7 p.m.

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