Editorial: Naperville's new campaign disclosure rule a positive step

The Naperville City Council took a significant step to increase transparency last month when it approved an ethics rule requiring the mayor and council members to publicly disclose campaign contributions from big donors.

The new rule, proposed by Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan, will apply if someone who donated more than $750 to an elected city official becomes an interested party in a matter before the council.

Sullivan said the rule will ensure the public is aware of any prior financial support by a petitioner, a petitioner's agents or public participants in a council agenda item - including speakers for or against an issue.

The policy change, approved with a 5-4 council vote, applies only to contributions accepted during the most-recent campaign cycle, starting with the election in April.

"It doesn't solve every ethical conflict that exists," Sullivan said. "What it does do - and I think this is what makes it powerful and important - is it provides a path to greater trust from a weary public. This clear, concise and easily auditable rule provides a road map for council and our constituents to know what they can expect from us."

She's right.

We have seen how easily state and federal politicians are influenced by special interests. We don't want that at the local level.

The public should know if someone with an issue before the city council has made a large campaign contribution to an elected official with the power to decide the outcome.

Still, Naperville's mayor and three council members voted against the new rule, saying it addresses a problem that doesn't exist. They warned the policy change would, among other things, discourage participation in the election process.

In addition, they said Illinois law already requires political candidates to report their campaign donations. Those campaign finance filings can be viewed online at the State Board of Elections website. That's a fair point. But should residents be required to do their own research on the donations received by elected city officials?

Wouldn't it be easier for those officials to simply announce when an issue involving a campaign donor is being discussed?

Giving the public more information is a good thing, especially when it comes to campaign donations. With this policy, Naperville has set a standard other cities and villages should strive to achieve.

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