Local Election

McHenry County committee advances proposed anti-corruption advisory referendum question

Scott Gessert
Scott Gessert

WOODSTOCK – An advisory referendum to gauge voter support for anti-corruption laws that would take money out of politics got a nudge forward Monday.

The McHenry County Board Management Services Committee voted, 6-0, to recommend putting the non-binding referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. The question outlines five initiatives aimed at significantly restricting campaign funding and the ability of public officials to collect it.

Woodstock resident Scott Gessert, who has asked the board during its past several meetings to advance the question, said he was cautiously optimistic about its changes. Although it is advisory, he said the question, which has appeared on ballots elsewhere, will help advance reform.

Gessert is the McHenry County leader of the national grass-roots group Represent.Us, which is pushing nationwide for the model legislation. Several supporters of the referendum joined Gessert in the audience.

“I really believe that it’s a movement with merits, and it’s a movement which is fiercely cross-partisan in its approach, and unifying in its message, and it’s the right thing to do,” Gessert said.

If put on the ballot by the County Board, voters in one yes or no question will be asked whether they support prohibiting politicians from taking campaign money from special interests they regulate; increasing campaign funding transparency; allowing voters to contribute to candidates through a tax-rebate voucher; placing limits on how much super-PACs can raise and spend; and prohibiting elected officials and their senior staff from participating in lobbying activity for five years after leaving office.

The question mirrors one that appeared on ballots last year in Winnebago and DeKalb counties – voters approved them both.

The committee amended the resolution to send the proposed question to the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee before it goes to the full County Board next month for a vote. Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said the committee felt that it should go through that committee as well because the question indirectly asks for changes to state and federal laws.

“The committee felt that it’s appropriate for seven more board members to see it before it goes to the board floor,” Hill said.

The committee next meets Aug. 12, which means that the County Board would have one chance to vote on the proposed referendum at its Aug. 16 meeting. The deadline for local governments to put referendums on the ballot is Aug. 22.

Campaign finance has become a more hot-button issue in recent years because of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that critics allege loosened long-standing restrictions. The court ruled in 2010 that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts for or against candidates – the so-called “Citizens United” ruling – and ruled in 2014 that limits on contributions that people can make over a two-year period to national party and federal candidate committees is unconstitutional.

Countywide voters on Nov. 8 also will be asked an advisory question as to whether the County Board should be reduced in size from 24 members – the law gives the board a window to do so as part of the redistricting process after the 2020 U.S. Census.

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