Local Election

McHenry County Board amends, but approves, anti-corruption referendum

WOODSTOCK – An advisory anti-corruption referendum with zero legal weight almost proved to be too much for the McHenry County Board to handle.

It took an hour of debate, six proposed amendments and an attempt to push it to the spring 2017 election, but County Board members eventually voted Tuesday evening, 19-4, to put a modified version of the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The referendum, proposed by the local chapter of the national good-government group Represent.Us, seeks to marshal support for federal and state legislation to remove money from politics.

The original version asked in a single yes-or-no question whether voters 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.

But County Board members, concerned that the language of the nonbinding referendum was too vague and misleading, removed the rebate voucher question, further defined special interests and added unions to groups whose spending should be limited.

In the end, however, the question is on the ballot, and Represent.Us county chapter leader Scott Gessert is pleased. 

“I’m concerned that we could have communicated more positively leading up to it, but in the end, the conversation is forwarded, and for that, I’m really pleased,” Gessert said.

The referendum has appeared on ballots in DeKalb and Winnebago counties.

County Board member Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, thought the question was too long and wanted it boiled down to asking whether voters support taxpayer funding of campaigns to limit the influence of money. But while Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, said the proposed condensing “emasculates the whole intent of this referendum,” she did support tabling the proposal to late October – next Monday is the deadline for governments to put referendums on the ballot. Both motions failed.

Board member Mike Skala, R-Huntley, proposed the successful amendments to remove the voucher question and change special interests to “entities doing business” with government. Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry, made the amendment to add unions to the language regarding super-PACs.

An attempt to remove the super-PAC limit failed. Board member Carolyn Schofield, who complained about being targeted by outside money during her unsuccessful run in March for the General Assembly, defended keeping it.

“No one in this room knows the wrath of super-PACs and dark money more than I do,” Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, said.

As the debate wore on, more than one County Board member tried to remind everyone that the referendum was advisory only. Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, called the original language “self-explanatory.”

“We can talk about this until we’re sick to our stomachs, back and forth about what ‘is’ is, but the public has the wherewithal to understand,” Thorsen said.

A canceled committee meeting almost prevented the referendum from appearing before the board Tuesday, but the agenda was amended late last week to include it.

This is the second time in this election that elements of the County Board have wanted significant analysis of a nonbinding referendum. A question on the ballot that will ask voters whether the County Board’s size should be reduced temporarily stalled in committee when its members wanted more information on what it would mean – the board cannot legally shrink itself until after the 2020 U.S. census.

How they voted:

The McHenry County Board voted, 19-4, to put an amended advisory referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot regarding removing the influence of money from politics.

Members Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake; Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake; Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry; and Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake; voted no.

Member Anna May Miller, R-Cary, was absent.

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