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updated: 8/28/2013 2:00 PM

DuPage County Board loosens cap on campaign contributions

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The DuPage County Board has repealed its self-imposed cap on campaign contributions after the state's attorney's office told members the restrictions can't be enforced.

Instead, DuPage now will mirror state law when it comes to limiting the amount of campaign money county board members and the board chairman can accept from donors doing or seeking county government work. The state cap is less restrictive than the previous limit in DuPage's ethics law.

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"I like the lower limits personally," county board member Robert Larsen said. "But our state's attorney's office -- our lawyers -- are telling us it is unenforceable."

Before DuPage's ethics law was revised on Tuesday night, it capped campaign donations from companies and consulting firms, as well as officers and owners of those entities, to $1,000 a year. That limit also applied to any individual appointed or applying for appointment to serve on a board, commission, authority, task force or advisory committee.

Now those same entities and individuals can donate up to $5,300 to county board members and the board chairman during each election cycle. An election cycle can be two or four years.

Government watchdog groups urged the county board to keep the local limit, which DuPage adopted in 2010.

"This revision of the ethics ordinance goes in the wrong direction," said Maryam Judar, executive director of the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center.

But First Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Wolfe advised county board members that they must follow state law when it comes to campaign contribution restrictions because DuPage isn't home rule.

"The state has set the limits (and) has not given a non-home rule entity authority to enact anything more restrictive or less restrictive," Wolfe said.

The reason DuPage was able to set its cap in 2010 was because the state-imposed limits hadn't yet taken effect. Now that the state law is in place, Wolfe said, "we are bound to follow that."

"A non-home rule county doesn't have authority to act unless it's specifically given," Wolfe said. "No authority (to limit campaign contributions) has been given to us by the state legislature or the Illinois Constitution or the common law."

Judar said she disagrees with that legal opinion. "I don't think it is clear that DuPage County as a non-home rule entity cannot exercise more restrictive ethics," she said.

In addition, officials with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform have said DuPage 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.

Attempts to delay Tuesday night's vote on the ethics law revisions failed. Some board members sought the delay to give watchdog groups a chance to respond to the opinion from the state's attorney's office.

"We're forcing this through," said Elizabeth Chaplin, the only county board member to vote against the revisions. "We're wasting our time on increasing political campaign donations."

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