Thursday, August 15, 2019

Caps are off in one Circuit Court race... maybe

A number of readers have pointed out that a prospective Circuit Court candidate recently received a $155,000 loan from her father, thereby eliminating contribution limits in any race in which she becomes a candidate.

I reached out to the prospective candidate -- who told me she is not a candidate... not yet, anyway.

It seems the vacancy she hopes to seek hasn't actually yet come open. Under the circumstances, she's asked me not to mention her by name. While a lot of readers know who I'm talking about here already, there's no reason not to honor that request.

But there are two reasons to run this post anyway.

First, some have speculated that caps might be lifted in all Circuit Court races on account of this one donation.

That does not appear to be the case.

The issue came up during the 2016 primary cycle, in late April 2015, to be precise, when Richard C. Cooke loaned his nascent judicial campaign $500,000. Application of Section 9.8-5(h) of the Election Code is easy when there is only one office up for election. There is only one Mayor of Chicago, one Governor of Illinois. In this election cycle, there is only one Supreme Court vacancy in the First District. But where there are multiple vacancies on the Circuit Court, as there are in every election cycle, the language of the statute is less helpful.

I quote now from my June 6, 2016 post on the subject:
Section 9.8-5(h) is not entirely clear, acknowledged Ken Menzel, General Counsel of the Illinois State Board of Elections. In a telephone conversation with FWIW yesterday, Menzel explained that there would have been less of a problem if the loan had come much later in the election cycle. Right now judicial candidates are, theoretically, potential candidates for many possible vacancies. However, [ISBE General Counsel Ken] Menzel pointed our that regulations were recently adopted (on May 19, in fact) that may provide guidance. Menzel cited FWIW to Title 26 of the Illinois Administrative Code, Section 100.75. Section 100.75(j)(2) states that, "'Candidate for the same office' shall be determined by candidate petition filings. Prior to the actual filing of petitions for a particular office, a candidate for that office wishing to receive official notice of a Self-Funding Notification from the Board must inform the Board in writing of his or her intention to seek nomination or election to the office in question."

At this point -- since Cooke has not declared for any specific vacancy and petitions can not yet be legally circulated -- it is probably safe to say that campaign finance caps * * * remain in place for all judicial campaign committees except Cooke's -- and he's not looking for more money. "That's almost certainly the legislative intent," one prominent election law attorney told me, though he would not comment for the record because of the possibility that this issue might be settled in the courts.
Prospective judicial candidates should consult their own election law attorneys on this subject for any clarification that may be required. I am not offering any sort of legal opinion or advice here.

The second takeaway from this story is a more general one, and one that arises in every election cycle that I've looked at over the past 12 years: Judges who are rumored to be retiring -- even strongly rumored -- to the point where it becomes common knowledge that Judge So-and-so is about to step down -- sometimes don't actually retire.

And, generally speaking, promises of future conduct are not actionable.

In the case of this particular candidate, I've heard the same rumor she has. And usually any rumor that reaches me has to be pretty widespread. So maybe the caps will come off in the race for that one vacancy, if it occurs. Maybe the candidate will look at another vacancy -- in which case the caps would be off there instead.

But not generally.

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