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We may never know source of campaign funds used to shape City Council

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



In another red-letter day for good government, the State Board of Elections ruled Monday that the group that poured the most dough into last month’s aldermanic races does not have to disclose where it got its money.

There’s nothing like official approval for secret campaign funds to make me feel all warm and fuzzy about our prospects for political reform in Illinois.

On a 7-1 vote, election board members decided there’s no reason to even bother holding a public hearing into whether the group For a Better Chicago should be forced to identify the individuals or businesses that ponied up the $855,000 its like-named political arm has been using to shape the City Council to its liking.

The board agreed with its own hearing officer’s finding that a loophole in state law allows the group to ignore the fundamental disclosure requirements that have been the basis for all campaign finance reform in this country since the Watergate era.

The ruling came in response to a complaint filed by officials at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

This will be the third time I have written about this subject, and I readily admit that I haven’t exactly detected a groundswell of public interest. But my hope remains that if enough people will wake up to what’s happening, we can somehow shame the individuals who are behind For a Better Chicago to rethink their strategy.

I wish I could tell you who those individuals are, but instead I can only remind you who is leading the effort: Greg Goldner, CEO of Resolute Consulting, who worked in the Daley administration and ran one of the mayor’s re-election campaigns, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s first campaign for Congress.

Along with two of his business associates, David Smolensky and Rob Nash, Goldner formed For a Better Chicago as a not for profit corporation on Oct. 27, listing its purpose as “political.” Then on Dec. 28, they created For a Better Chicago PAC, and over the next two days moved $855,000 that had been raised by the corporation into the political action committee.

Through this maneuver, Goldner asserts that it’s nobody’s business where he came up with the $855,000. That bugs me, as I reminded him Monday.

The organization’s lawyer, Michael Kasper, says For a Better Chicago is within its legal rights because it did not actually spend any of its funds on political candidates before Jan. 1, when a law aimed at forcing disclosure by non profit corporations was repealed in favor of new campaign donation limits. Of course, by slipping the $855,000 in ahead of the deadline, For a Better Chicago also evaded the new limits that would have prevented it from donating more than $10,000 to its PAC.

That helps you see just how sneaky this was. Kasper would not comment when I asked whether he had devised this strategy or simply been retained to defend it.

Kasper, you may recall, is the lawyer last seen successfully representing Emanuel in his residency fight to remain on the ballot for the mayoral election.

That, of course, would be the same Mayor-elect Emanuel who publicly called upon For a Better Chicago to disclose the names of its donors after reporters started asking whether the group was fronting for him.

My own hunch is more that the funders of For a Better Chicago are many of the same rich businessmen who put up the bucks for Emanuel’s campaign. Maybe Emanuel could get on the phone and explain to Goldner and friends that they’ve just painted a big bulls-eye on themselves and their issues for the next four years until they’ve cleared this up.

What I have found especially disappointing is all the aldermanic candidates who have lined up for their share of For a Better Chicago’s largesse without any concern over the lack of disclosure. It doesn’t take a whole lot of money to swing an aldermanic election, and Goldner is buying plenty of gratitude for as little as $10,000-$20,000.

For a Better Chicago donated some $481,000 to aldermanic candidates for the Feb. 22 election. No other single entity came close. Goldner said the group will spend another $200,000 to $300,000 on behalf of candidates in the April 5 runoff. It has endorsed candidates in 11 of the races.

If you see a campaign mailing come into your home that says it was paid for by For a Better Chicago, you might want to think twice about whether that candidate deserves your vote.



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