Mihalopoulos: Challenger for top county law enforcement job foggy on some laws

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Kim Foxx, the former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, wants voters to give her the Democratic nomination for the county’s top law-enforcement job in the March primary.

Foxx may want to familiarize herself first with the state’s campaign-finance disclosure laws.

Illinois election board officials told the Chicago Sun-Times that Foxx’s campaign violated the law by not disclosing how Preckwinkle’s political fund paid for a poll to gauge interest in a Foxx bid to unseat the perpetually embattled state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez.

In January, while Foxx still was on the Preckwinkle administration’s payroll, Tulchin Research of San Francisco conducted a poll focused virtually entirely on the state’s attorney’s race.

After first asking likely voters if they preferred Alvarez or Foxx, the pollsters proceeded to sing the praises of the challenger and recited a litany of criticisms the incumbent state’s attorney has faced. Then, the pollsters asked if the information they just shared had compelled the likely voters to change their opinions about the race.

Such a poll has to be reported as what’s called an “in-kind contribution.” Foxx’s campaign should have disclosed that Preckwinkle did the poll for her in its own campaign-finance disclosures, a top state elections board official told me.

OPINION

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But Foxx’s filings with state elections officials make no mention of the poll.

The only reference was in a disclosure filed by the Preckwinkle for President committee. In that report, Preckwinkle’s political fund reported paying $25,000 to Tulchin Research onFeb. 3.

“Strategic consulting” was the purpose of the payment, Preckwinkle’s campaign said. The president’s political fund did not indicate in its publicly filed report that a poll had been done for Foxx by Tulchin Research.

Foxx campaign spokeswoman Joanna Klonsky acknowledged Preckwinkle commissioned and paid for the poll “for the purpose of demonstrating to the potential, inchoate candidate her viability, should she later decide to become a candidate.”

Klonsky said Foxx had not yet decided whether to run at the time the poll was conducted — she created her campaign committee onJune 3— so she has no obligation to disclose the “pre-candidacy poll.”

The Foxx campaign is wrong, said Tom Newman, director of the campaign disclosure division of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

“They definitely would have to report that,” Newman said. “That poll pretty clearly constitutes an in-kind contribution.”

It doesn’t matter that Foxx had not yet formed a committee when the poll was conducted, Newman said. State law dictates an expenditure of that magnitude for Foxx’s then-potential run for office required her to form a committee and report Preckwinkle’s gift of the poll, he said.

For the purposes of campaign-finance law in Illinois, Foxx became a candidate as soon as she “gave consent to make expenditures with a view to bringing about her nomination or election,” Newman said.

Foxx was aware of the January poll when it was conductedbut “did not authorize” it, Klonsky said.Emails obtained by the Sun-Times show Foxx was involved in drafting the poll questions.Preckwinkle’s political aides did not reply to emails seeking comment.

Now that state officials have learned of the situation, Newman said they would look into the matter.

“We will be contacting them,” he said of the Foxx campaign.

Transparency in campaign-finance spending matters. The rules exist because it should be plainly visible to the public when someone as prominent as Preckwinkle gives a $25,000 boost to an ally running for such a critically important office as state’s attorney.

How the poll expenditure is classified also could dramatically alter how much Preckwinkle can help Foxx directly in this campaign.

Unless any of the candidates spends more than $100,000 on their own campaign, which would lift contribution caps, Preckwinkle is limited to giving Foxx a total of $53,900 for her primary run.

The Foxx campaign has reported accepting a $25,000 check from Preckwinkle for President onSept. 14. When the other $25,000 for the poll is properly counted as a contribution to Foxx from Preckwinkle, the president’s total support for her former top aide adds up to $50,000.

So as long as the caps are in place, Preckwinkle shouldn’t be able to give Foxx more than another $3,900.

Before further asserting her case to be the county’s top prosecutor, Foxx should bring herself into compliance with state campaign-finance laws by amending her reports, finally disclosing the poll Preckwinkle did for her nearly 10 months ago.

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