Lake County expands vendor disclosure rules to include campaign donations

Vendors seeking to do business with Lake County will have to reveal political donations they've made as part of the county board's latest push for greater government transparency.

The updated disclosure rules, approved Tuesday with a 20-0 board vote, require companies pursuing contracts worth more than $30,000 to complete a disclosure form that digs deeper than a version enacted in November.

Most significantly, interested vendors must now detail campaign contributions made within the last five years to Lake County Board members, countywide elected officials such as sheriff or coroner, or any political action committee, even ones not directly connected to county government.

Donations made by the company or its owners, managers, lobbyists, consultants, subcontractors and others connected to the business must be reported.

Board member Dick Barr, a Round Lake Beach Republican, wanted donations from labor unions connected to vendors to be included in that list.

"It does not go far enough," he said. "We need to tell the whole story."

Barr, who also cited other concerns with the proposal, proposed sending it back to the board's finance committee for such a change, but the maneuver was rejected by a majority of commissioners. Despite his objections, Barr eventually voted for the policy.

With the same vote, the board expanded an existing rule requiring vendors to identify relatives who are Lake County employees.

The first version of the policy, adopted in November, requires company owners or officers to name immediate family members who work for the county in any capacity.

The policy has widened to specifically include spouses, children, parents and in-laws, as well as any relatives or non-relatives living in their homes - and any of their children.

On the county side, the policy now specifically applies to elected officials, department directors, deputy directors or managers.

Any employees who appear on a company's list won't be allowed to participate in the vendor evaluation process.

Completed disclosure statements will be included in public document packets for county board meetings, and they will be posted on the county's website.

The information on the reports is designed to be strictly informational. It legally cannot factor in whether a company is awarded a county contract, said Highland Park Democrat Paul Frank, who leads the finance committee.

Fox River Grove Republican Michael Danforth complained that there aren't consequences for vendors who fail to complete the form or who aren't honest about their relatives or political donations.

"No one will comply, because they don't have to," Danforth said.

Danforth also called the policy burdensome and too broad. But in the end, Danforth - like Barr and several other members who objected to elements of the policy - voted to enact it.

Before the vote, Frank promised to talk with the committee about union inclusion and other potential changes to the rules. That won over Lincolnshire Republican Ann Maine, who called the policy "a work in progress."

The county board's campaign to improve transparency began in the fall but really took off after November's election, which saw Democrats win majority control of the board and its political agenda.

Several candidates said expanded vendor disclosure requirements would help the county avoid conflicts of interest and nepotism in the vendor-hiring process.

"This has been an issue for years in this county," Libertyville Democrat Jennifer Clark said.

Last month, the board voted to pursue state legislation that would allow members to remove and replace a chairman who wasn't performing satisfactorily. Two plans have since been proposed in the General Assembly.

Board members also have adopted a plan to film and broadcast all of their committee meetings on cable TV and the internet. Board meetings already are televised.

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