A political committee led by a prominent Oak Park Democrat that spent approximately $7.3 million to help Democrats win two crucial Illinois Supreme Court races last fall faces the prospect of thousands of dollars in fines for not properly disclosing the bulk of its spending in a timely manner.
The All for Justice independent expenditure committee was founded last August by attorney Luke Casson, a former member of the Triton College Board, political director of the Democratic Party of Oak Park and a close friend and associate of Illinois State Senate President Don Harmon. Casson serves as chairman and treasurer of All for Justice.
All for Justice’s failure to properly disclose most of its spending in a timely manner was first reported by the Chicago Tribune.
Other than $1.5 million in spending for television advertising, which was disclosed in the fall, the rest of All for Justice’s spending was not viewable on the Illinois State Board of Elections website until All for Justice filed amended reports in January.
Independent expenditure committees, such as All for Justice, which operate independently from candidate committees, are required to disclose all expenditures of $1,000 or more to the Illinois State Board of Elections within two or five days of the expenditure on a form known as a B-1.
“The purpose of the B-1 reporting requirement is that we are trying to show in as close to real time as we can, what the independent expenditure committee is spending and who it is trying to oppose or support with that spending,” said Matt Dietrich, the public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Casson said that All for Justice thought it was reporting its spending to the Illinois State Board of Elections in a timely manner last fall but did not generate the correct form due to a mistake in working with the Board of Elections software and website.
“It was our error; it was a scrivener’s error, we hit the wrong toggle, but these expenditures were all uploaded in real time.” Casson said.
Casson said his group’s spending was the subject of media reports during the fall campaign and said the suggestion in the Tribune’s story that the group was hiding its spending for competitive advantage is incorrect.
“It certainly wasn’t being hidden,” Casson said noting that political ad spending on television is widely tracked and commented about. “Errors often do occur and you correct them once you find them. There’s some insinuation, at least from other media reports, that there was something sinister here, and there just wasn’t. It was highly reported.”
Whether unintentional or not, the failure of All for Justice to properly disclose its spending will probably result in a fine.
“There will be fines for the late B-1s,” Dietrich said. “Those were not filed within the either five day or two day window that they were supposed to be filed. So there will be assessments. I don’t think that those have been tallied up yet.”
Fines range from $500 for a first offense, to $3,000 for the fourth offense and beyond. Dietrich said it appears that 33 reports were not correctly filed by All for Justice. He also noted that the Board of Elections and committees facing fines sometimes reach settlement agreements for less than the total of fines that are levied.
The Illinois State Board of Elections is made up of eight members, four Democrats and four Republicans. All for Justice has the right to contest any fines that may be levied against it in a hearing.
“The committee will get a chance to make its case, there is due process here,” Dietrich said.
Harmon’s campaign committee, Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate contributed $500,000 to All for Justice. Contributions to All for Justice, which were all reported in a timely and correct manner, came primarily from unions, trial lawyers and Democratic politicians.
When Harmon was asked in a voicemail message about the All for Justice situation, he responded with a statement issued by his spokesman.
“We have worked long and hard to put an effective set of rules in place that everyone should follow,” Harmon wrote. “If something isn’t disclosed in a timely manner, steps should be taken immediately to rectify the situation. And if the State Board of Elections needs new or additional tools to make sure this happens more intuitively and more timely, I am always happy to work with them. We all have the shared goal of meaningful campaign finance transparency.”
All for Justice spent most of its money on television advertising focusing on two Supreme Court races, in Illinois’ 2nd and 3rd districts, supporting the Democratic candidates and opposing the Republican candidates.
In the 2nd District Democrat Elizabeth Rochford defeated Republican Mark Curran, and in the 3rd District Democrat Mary Kay O’Brien edged Republican Michael Burke. Those two wins ensured that Democrats retained control of the Illinois Supreme Court.
“We found a need to win those two seats and we did,” Casson said, noting that important issues such as abortion rights, immigration and gun control were at stake.