DuPage election agency may impose restrictions on its representatives

The DuPage County Election Commission board is considering a policy to restrict the political activity of some representatives of the agency.

Chairwoman Cathy Ficker Terrill said she asked attorneys to draft a policy to provide "a clear direction" that board members, executive staff members and outside lawyers hired by the commission should avoid active involvement in political campaigns of local candidates who may come before the panel.

"It just seems we should have a clearly stated policy about what is the best practice," Ficker Terrill said.

The move comes after officials learned that Bond, Dickson & Associates - a Wheaton law firm that represents the commission - has donated more than $6,300 since 2003 to Republican Recorder Fred Bucholz.

Jean Kaczmarek, a Glen Ellyn Democrat and longtime critic of the commission, said attorneys from the firm should have voluntarily recused themselves when Moon Khan - the Democrat challenging Bucholz in the November general election - sought a recount of the March 15 primary results that initially showed him without enough votes to win his party's nomination.

Khan eventually was declared the winner of the Democratic primary after a court-ordered recount.

In response, the commission asked DuPage Investigator General Nancy Wolfe to review the matter and determine if there was a violation of the county's ethics ordinance. Wolfe concluded no further action was required, officials said.

But Ficker Terrill and the other two members of the commission board directed the staff and attorney Pat Bond to draft the proposed policy they hope will avoid such possible conflicts.

On Tuesday, Bond said a draft of the proposed policy is expected in time for the board to consider on Sept. 14.

Ficker Terrill said she doesn't know what the policy will say. But she said she wants to prevent some people tied to the commission from campaigning for DuPage candidates.

For example, she said she doesn't want commissioners to collect signatures for local candidates or have yard signs promoting local candidates.

"Personally, that's what I've always followed," she said. "That's what I've recommended for the other commissioners."

Bond said he's trying to determine whether the policy could apply to the three commissioners appointed to their seats on the bipartisan board.

In addition, he said the executive staff is "sort of covered already" by the commission's ethics ordinance.

Bond said the policy could apply to law firms working for the commission, including his own. The challenge is determining what kind of political activity could be prohibited.

"Is it working on campaigns?" Bond said. "Is it making political contributions? Is it showing up at somebody's fundraiser? That's really what we're working out."

Bond said it's possible the proposed policy will prohibit law firms from donating to candidates within the commission's jurisdiction, including countywide elected officials and county board members.

"That's certainly something we're contemplating," he said.

Kaczmarek said that would be significant because Bond's law firm has contributed more than $200,000 through the years to DuPage Republicans.

"I hope the policy will smack down all political activity - contributions, attendance to fundraisers and rallies, yard signs, petitions - everything," Kaczmarek said.

Kaczmarek said staff members, including in-house attorneys, for the Illinois State Board of Elections are banned from participating in politics. Outside attorneys working for the Chicago Board of Elections voluntarily refuse to participate in politics, she said.

While the DuPage Election Commission might adopt a policy, Ficker Terrill is working with county board Chairman Dan Cronin and county Clerk Paul Hinds to develop plans to consolidate the agency and the clerk's office. One issue being explored is whether the proposed merger would allow the commission to get its legal advice from the state's attorney's office.

Jean Kaczmarek
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