All Apologies

State Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago, natch) will apologize for failing to disclose her campaign finances for three years running, according to an agreement reached with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Still pending: A similar case against Ald. Ed Smith.

Here is the press release announcing the agreement with Collins.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 28, 2008

LEGISLATOR’S CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE TO PAY $20,000 FINE FOR FILING ERROR-RIDDEN FINANCE REPORTS

Rep. Annazette Collins to issue apology

CHICAGO – State Rep. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago, has agreed to issue an apology for filing inaccurate and incomplete disclosure of contributions to her election campaigns from 2005 through 2007, and her campaign committee will pay a fine of $20,000 to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

After the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) questioned why the Collins committee reported no contributions or expenditures for three years running, Collins acknowledged that her campaigns had received more than $110,000 in contributions and had spent more than $120,000 during those three years.

The public apology and fine are part of a settlement agreement between the Friends of Annazette Collins political action committee and ICPR, which lodged a complaint against the committee earlier this year. The State Board of Elections recently voted to accept the settlement agreement.

“Rep. Collins is not the only politician who has been giving the public erroneous information about campaign contributions and spending, but her committee’s finance reports have been some of the sloppiest accounting statements of the more than 3,600 committees registered with the state,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of ICPR. “For far too long, the State Board of Elections has allowed her committee and many others to file reports riddled with glaringly obvious mistakes and omissions.”

“A simple search of the State Board of Elections’ website revealed that Collins was raising and spending campaign funds,” said Kent Redfield, a professor of political studies and public policy at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “At the same time that her committee reported no contributions, several other committees were reporting transfers of thousands of dollars to the Collins committee. It is unacceptable for the Board to neglect its responsibilities in this manner and rely on the public to pursue remedies for these violations.”

After ICPR and Redfield lodged a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections, the Collins committee filed 18 amended reports revealing $110,301 in receipts and $120,794 in expenditures from 2005 through 2007.

Under Illinois law, candidates and committees attempting to influence elections are mandated to make regular financial reports to the public. Those reports are available online at www.elections.state.il.us, and they are supposed to identify contributors of more than $150 and detail how the money has been spent.

“Illinois has no restrictions on who can give or how much anyone can contribute to campaigns, but the law does require candidates to tell the public the amounts and sources of their campaign money and details of how it is spent,” Canary said. “It is a weak system that has been made even weaker by a history of timid oversight by state authorities.

“The Illinois State Board of Elections needs to be more than a safe depository of campaign finance reports,” Canary said. “The Board should conduct random audits of political action committees and aggressively investigate irregular disclosure reports. Because it has become so impotent that it has to be prodded into action by members of the public, politicians have little to fear from this easygoing bureaucracy that sees finger-wagging as an adequate response to violations of campaign finance laws.”

Under terms of the agreement signed by her attorney and accepted by the Illinois State Board of Elections, Collins has 30 days to issue a public statement acknowledging the negligence by her committee. The statement will include an admission that voters did not have the important campaign finance information that they are entitled to by law, an apology for any confusion they may have caused, and a commitment to complete and accurate finance reports in the future.

To view the settlement agreement and ICPR’s original complaint, go to www.ilcampaign.org. The amended finance reports filed by the Friends of Annazette Collins committee can be viewed on the website of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

ICPR and Redfield also filed a similar complaint against the Committee for Ed Smith, which funds Chicago Alderman Ed Smith’s campaigns for re-election for alderman and for Democratic Party committeeman from the 28th Ward. Although the l State Board of Elections found that the Committee for Ed Smith violated the state’s filing requirements, no civil penalties have yet been assessed by the Board in the Smith case.

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