Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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Elections and Referenda

Elections and Tax Referenda

    List past, current and upcoming referenda in Illinois, using the Election Information website of the Illinois State Board of Elections. Most of the issues related to schools are shown if you set the "Government Unit Type" popup to "School".

    Illegal Activities

      Antioch D34 pitches
    tax hike on its web page

      Kenilworth D38 mailing at public expense
    says 22% raise to unions isn't evidence
    of excessive spending
    Illinois election code prohibits schools from using any public funds to urge you to vote in support of a particular candidate or referendum choice. Examples of violations:

    • Use of school facilities to hold meetings.
    • Use of school resources (web site, copiers, etc.)
    • Kids being told to tell their parents to vote "yes"
    • School-supplied materials describing the referendum positively (i.e. "good for our schools", "badly needed")
    • Use of personnel paid by the school in related efforts

    A first-time violation is a Class B misdemeanor, a second violation is a more serious Class A misdemeanor. Violations should be reported to the State's Attorney of the county.

    Schools are allowed to provide "information" but cannot make a specific endorsement or ask for a certain vote. Obviously, the distinction between "information" and an endorsement is a slippery one, so it is advised to key a close eye on these kinds of activities. Here is the section of the Illinois code that applies:

      (10 ILCS 5/9-25.1) Sec. 9-25.1. Election interference.
      (a) As used in this Section, "public funds" means any funds appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly or by any political subdivision of the State of Illinois.
      (b) No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated for political or campaign purposes to any candidate or political organization. This Section shall not prohibit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to any proposition appearing on an election ballot, or for dissemination of information and arguments published and distributed under law in connection with a proposition to amend the Constitution of the State of Illinois.
      (c) The first time any person violates any provision of this Section, that person shall be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. Upon the second or any subsequent violation of any provision of this Section, the person violating any provision of this Section shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

  • Illinois Election Interference In your local school board election or school tax hike referendum, are Illinois' Election Interference statute or the Illinois Attorney General's Model Ethics Ordinance being violated? Read these pages for specific examples, and decide for yourself!

  • The office of the Illinois Attorney General issued this Model Ethics Ordinance for use by governmental units, including school boards, in complying with the mandates of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act. Among the Model Ethics Ordinance's provisions is this:
    Section 5-1:
    Prohibit political activities.
    (a) No officer or employee shall intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time, as defined herein. No officer or employee shall intentionally use any property or resources of the [name of entity] in connection with any prohibited political activity.

  • FAQ on Referendums and the State Officials and Employee Ethics Act, February 2007. The Illinois Council of School Attorneys (not an unbiased source) put together these answers regarding the use of public resources in school finance elections.

  • Districts Failing to Set Proper Ethics Rules by Russell Lissau, Daily Herald, February 13, 2005. "Few Lake County school boards have adopted ethics ordinances that meet a minimum standard set by state lawmakers, a Daily Herald examination has shown. Although nearly every local school board has approved the legislation mandated by the General Assembly in late 2003, most policies are missing a chapter spelling out potential penalties for violations, such as jail time or fines. Without that chapter -- formally called Article 25 -- the rules aren't as strong as they're intended to be and could be deemed invalid if challenged in court ...
         "Every government agency in Illinois was required to adopt new ethics-related regulations by May 19, 2004. Formally called the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, the legislation was designed to encourage ethical conduct by limiting political activities and gift acceptance by politicians and employees. They can't campaign for or against referendums, for example, or accept certain gifts from people who do business with the district. Many boards approved the rules after the deadline, and some still haven't approved them. There are no penalties for failing to adopt them in a timely fashion."

  • Illegal activities by school officials concerning finances or corruption: Go to our page on Spending: Illegal Activities.

    Tax-Exempt Groups and Political Activities

    Tax-exempt groups such as 501(c)(3)'s may jeopardize their status if they participate in or contribute to a political effort.

  • Internal Revenue Service: Tax-Exempt Organizations and Political Campaign Intervention, -- access to materials discussing the federal tax rules that apply to political campaign intervention by tax-exempt organizations. Items include:
    • IRS Reports on Political Activity Compliance Initiative
    • Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations
    • IRS Releases New Guidance and Results of Political Intervention Examinations
    • Political Intervention: Do's and Don'ts for 501(c)(3) Organizations
    • Political and Lobbying Activities: federal tax rules on political and lobbying activities for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations
    • Political and Lobbying Activities -- Private Foundations: "In addition to the general rules applicable to all section 501(c)(3) organizations, private foundations are subject to excise taxes on these activities"
    • News Releases and Fact Sheets on Political Campaign Activities

  • Internal Revenue Service: How Do You Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity? "If you suspect or know of an individual or company that is not complying with the tax laws, you may report this activity ... You may fill out [a form] online, print it and mail it. ... Although you are not required to identify yourself, it is helpful to do so. Your identity can be kept confidential. You may also be entitled to a reward."

    "Non-Partisan" Partisans

      The 72-page political agenda
    of the "non-partisan"
    League of Women Voters
    of Illinois
    Some groups nurture a public image of being non-partisan, but in reality have detailed political agendas.

    A classic example is the League of Women Voters (LWV). Many people think that "the League" simply encourages political participation without endorsing specific positions. This is incorrect. The League does indeed endorse many positions on a number of issues. Let's let the LWV try to explain it:

    The League of Women Voters is strictly nonpartisan; it neither supports nor opposes candidates for office at any level of government. At the same time, the League is wholeheartedly political and works to influence policy through advocacy. It is the original grassroots citizen network, directed by the consensus of its members nationwide. The 900 state and local Leagues -- comprising [sic] a vast grassroots lobby corps that can be mobilized when necessary.

    Source: "About Us" page of the LWV website, retrieved March 2007.

    Here in Illinois, the League of Women Voters of Illinois has a 72-page document Where We Stand: 2005-2007 Program on its political agenda! Fully seven pages of dense, single-spaced type in this manifesto are devoted to its various positions on the government operation and funding of schools! (So much for being impartial!) Bear this in mind if "the League" offers to host or stage school board debates or information presentations in your community.

  • In League With Big Government by John Berthoud, president, National Taxpayers Union. Excerpts:
         "The League of Women Voters (LWV) tries to portray itself as an ideologically-neutral, 'good government' group. ... But just beneath this respectable veneer, the League -- and its state and local chapters -- has become an active lobbyist ... This fall, state and local League chapters all over the country will be weighing in on the side of bigger government and higher taxes. ... The National Taxpayers Union Foundation -- using the database of our BillTally program -- conducted a line-by-line cost accounting of the League's legislative agenda as presented in its National Program, and found that if the League's political wish list were enacted in its entirety, federal spending would soar by $870 billion per year. That represents a 40% increase in the size of the federal government."

    More Info on Elections and Referenda

  • Illinois State Board of Elections

  • Learn how to acquire records and documents from your school district in the section of this website on the federal and Illlinois Freedom of Information Acts.

  • Sources for campaign materials:

    Illinois Organizations Monitoring School Taxes

  • Family Taxpayers Network

  • Citizens for Reasonable And Fair Taxes (CRAFT)

  • A list of other taxpayer organizations in the state of Illinois.

Political Expenditures and Contributions

  • Is your district a haven of Pay-for-Play? Can businesses get rewarded with big contracts for contributing to a referendum campaign? Here's the text of the policy adopted by the Cary school board to prevent such abuses:

    Vendor/Contractor Conflict of Interest

    Any company or individual doing $10,000 or more in business with the District within a fiscal year shall not contribute to any political campaign that directly affects the District while doing business for the District or for a period of two years after completion of business with the District. Further, the District will not enter into significant business with a company or individual that has contributed to a political campaign that directly affects the District within two years prior to commencing business.

    Political campaigns that directly affect the district shall be defined as:

    • School board election
    • Tax or bond referendum

  • To discover the facts about expenditures for specific companies and consultants used in election and referendum campaigns (e.g., PR companies specializing in tax-hikes) or on behalf of tax-hike organizations (e.g., "Save Our Schools", "Community Partnership for Education") associated with school districts, go to the "Campaign Disclosure" section of the website of the Illinois State Board of Elections. Expenditures can be searched in a variety of ways, though you may need to do some exploring to discover them all.

Local Referenda

  • Who's making contributions to local referendum efforts? Here are just a few tidbits:

    • Vendors:
      We're seeing more and more examples of contributions to pro-tax groups from companies who stand to benefit from more school spending. For example, here are some recent contributions by bond firm William Blair and Company to local school tax-hike referenda:

        Contributions to tax-hike campaigns
        Contribution Date Pro-Tax Committee School District
        $500 May 22, 2008 "Pro Kids 2008" Diamond Lake School District 76
        $3,950 January 29, 2008 "Geneva Citizens for Excellent Schools" Geneva School District 304
        $2,000 January 28, 2008 "ReNew Our Schools" DeKalb School District 428
        $3,500 October 16, 2007 "Grant Citizens Helping Students" Fox Lake CHSD124
        $3,500 April 14, 2007 "Students First" Joliet School District 204
        $800 March 1, 2007 "Citizens for Strong Schools" Park Ridge-Niles School District 64
        $500 October 23, 2006 "Protect Our Investment in Education" Barrington School District 220
        $4,000 October 3, 2006 "Vote Yes for LFHS" Lake Forest High School
        $4,000 September 19, 2006 "Voices of Tomorrow's Education" Glenbrook High School
        $2,500 March 27, 2006 "Advance 300" School referendum, D300
        $1,800 February 9, 2006 "Byron Referendum Committee" Byron CUSD 226
        $1,500 February 15, 2005 "Citizens Referendum Committee" McHenry School District 118
        $500 March 8, 2004 "Neighbors for Strong Schools" Skokie School District
        $1,000 April 10, 2003 "Committee for Our Community Schools" Orland Park School District
        $750 March 6, 2002 "Protect Our Investment in Education" Barrington School District 220
        $1,000 March 22, 2001 "Bright Futures Cmte (Fremont Kids First)" Fremont School District 79
        $500 January 3, 2000 "Bright Futures Cmte (Fremont Kids First)" Fremont School District 79

    • PTOs/PTAs:
      Many PTOs and PTAs (click for more info about these organizations) are little more than cheerleaders and fundraisers for their schools, and this also takes the form of making contributions to tax-hike groups. Here's an example, from Winnetka's 2007 referendum:

      Winnetka PTO
      contributions to 2007 tax-hike campaign
      Crow Island School PTO$5003/6/2007
      Greeley School PTO$5002/26/2007
      Hubbard Woods School PTO$5003/9/2007
      Skokie-Washburne PTO$1,5003/9/2007

State and Local Candidates

  • You can also use the Campaign Disclosures section of the website of the Illinois State Board of Elections to learn all about who is contributing to whom and for what. You can search by candidate name or office sought, by contributor, by proposition, or by the name of political committees or organizations.

  • Guide to Campaign Disclosure (PDF), Illinois State Board of Elections

  • A great deal of information about political expenditures and contributions is available online. But sometimes reports, especially from local groups, are "Filed on Paper". We asked the about how to access these paper reports, and received this reply:
    If the committee is a local committee, the reports will be available for viewing and/or purchase at both the county clerk's office and the Springfield Office of the State Board of Elections. If you would like to view them in the State Board of Elections office in Chicago, we need to know ahead of time, and they will be sent to Chicago.

    If it's a state committee (legislative, judicial, statewide, etc) they are available for viewing and/or purchase at both the Springfield and Chicago offices of the State Board of Elections.

    Each county clerk will determine their cost if you want to purchase them, but the Board charges $.25 per page. They can be mailed to you, but payment is due up front.

    But note this! Contributions made to a committee that files its reports on paper are NOT searchable and thus cannot be uncovered using the Illinois Campaign Disclosures website!

  • Follow the Money For an eye-popping look at some of the education PACs in Illinois and their contributions to Illinois politicians, explore the search possibilities on the website of "Follow the Money". The names on these lists are a who's who of the major players among Illinois politicians in education legislation and regulations. There are a number of special reports and list, plus the ability to search Illinois or national political contributions by office, election year, candidate name or special interest categories.

  • Big Bucks PACs in Illinois, 1993-2003
    (Click to see full-size chart)
    Who's the Daddy Warbucks, the bull in the china shop, the 800-pound gorilla of political spending in Springfield?

    Why, of course! It's the immensely powerful education unions!

    Here's a beautifully done chart listing the big bucks PACs influencing politics in Illinois, produced by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. That conspicuously long bar, in the top position? That's Springfield's Big Kahuna, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois affiliate of the NEA. The third line is the Illinois Federation of Teachers, associated with the AFT.

  • The Illinois Sunshine Database, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform: "The Illinois Sunshine Database makes it easier than ever for voters to find out who is funding candidates for state office in Illinois. The database consists of all contributions and expenditures reported by incumbents and challengers for constitutional office, state legislature and state Supreme and Appellate Court, as well as legislative caucus committees and the two principle state political parties."

  • The Sky's the Limit: Illinois Politics and the $10,000 Hello, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Excerpts: "Illinois has no limits on who can give to political candidates, or how much they can give. ... Contributing in very large amounts has become a matter of routine for some of the state's most powerful political insiders. ... Only 87 of the 452 very large contributions of $10,000 or more were from individuals. The great bulk of the giving, and the money, came from corporations, unions, associations, and other political committees."

  • The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform provides this handy chart of Illinois' top 20 political contributors for 2001-2002:

      Contributor $$$
      Illinois Education Association (ed union)
      Illinois Federation of Teachers/Chicago Teachers Union (ed union) $1,952,415
                 Combined: $5,095,604
      Illinois State Medical Society $1,322,149
      Illinois Hospital Association $1,240,492
      American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees $988,845
      Service Employees International Union $921,294
      Illinois Trial Lawyers Association $803,585
      Duchossois Companies & Family Members $788,664
      Association of Beer Distributors of Illinois $778,608
      Illinois Association of Realtors $700,155
      United Distillers & Vintners $573,222
      Personal PAC (pro abortion rights) $569,919
      Southwestern Bell Communications $564,007
      Illinois Manufacturers Association $562,140
      Construction & General Laborers District Council of Chicago $534,855
      Illinois Power / Dynegy, Inc. $489,404
      Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Mawe $462,008
      Wine & Spirits Distributors of Illinois $461,131
      Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois $444,776
      Chicago & Northeast Illinois District Carpenters $442,230

  • Illinois Campaign for Political Reform description of the Illinois Education Association:

      Illinois Education Association

      The Illinois Education Association (IEA), headquartered in Springfield, represents 110,000 classroom teachers, higher education personnel, and retired association members from public schools located throughout Illinois. The IEA's legislative agenda includes more state funding for public education; together with the International Federation of Teachers, the IEA has been credited with convincing the governor and the legislature to devote 51% of all new state revenues to education.

      The Illinois Education Association is a career patron of Governor Rod Blagojevich (D), Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), Secretary of State Jesse White (D), Comptroller Daniel Hynes (D), Democratic Party Chair and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D), and Senate President Emil Jones (D).

      From 1993 through June 30, 2003, the Illinois Education Association contributed $8,678,644 to candidates for Illinois statewide constitutional and legislative office, 59% of which was contributed to Democrats.

      Last revised August, 2003.

  • Illinois Campaign for Political Reform description of the Illinois Federation of Teachers/Chicago Teachers Union:

      Illinois Federation of Teachers / Chicago Teachers Union

      The Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) based in Oak Brook, is a branch of the American Federation of Teachers. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), based in Chicago, is the largest local of the IFT. The IFT/CTU represent teachers and paraprofessionals in K-12 school districts throughout Illinois, higher education faculty as well as staff, and public employees. The IFT/CTU legislative agenda includes increasing funding for public schools, increasing teacher pensions and improving health care plans and retirement benefits for public school teachers. Recent legislative actions benefiting the IFT include the adoption of a resolution supporting bargaining rights for graduate assistants and the fall 2001 passage of the Teacher Retirement Insurance Bill, which shielded retired IFT members from dramatic premium increases.

      The IFT and the CTU are career patrons of Governor Rod Blagojevich (D), Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), Secretary of State Jessie White (D), Comptroller Daniel Hynes (D), Democratic Party Chair and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D), and Senate President Emil Jones (D).

      From 1993 through June 30, 2003, the Illinois Federation of Teachers / Chicago Teachers Union contributed $4.6 million to candidates for Illinois statewide constitutional and legislative office, 95% of which was contributed to Democrats.

      Last revised August, 2003.

  • The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform also has a very handy guide, "Follow the Money: Tips on Researching Money and Politics in Illinois" (PDF)

  • "Follow the Money" -- Institute on Money in State Politics:
    • Report on Illinois Education Assoc/IPACE: Political contributions totalling $3,159,064 in 2002, 69% to democrats, 31% to Republicans. Click for full breakout.
    • Report on Illinois Federation of Teachers: Political contributions totalling $1,697,605 in 2002, 91% to democrats, 9% to Republicans. Click for full breakout.

  • For the 2002 election cycle, click here for a breakout of Illinois "education" PACs and their beneficiaries. Among PACs listed are such entities as "Chicago Principals & Administrators Association", "Cook County Township School Treasurers Action Committee", "Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools", "Illinois Association of School Administrators/The Alliance PAC", and the "Regional Office of Education/IARSS PAC".

    Also for the 2002 election cycle, click here for the education unions among the "public sector unions" listed in the Follow the Money search, and their beneficiaries. Zillions of candidate donations are individually documented from such unions as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), Illinois Education Association (IEA), Lake County Federation Of Teachers Local 504, North Suburban Teachers, Northwest Suburban Teachers, Southwest Area Council Federation Of Teachers, West Suburban Teachers and others.

    This all sure helps to explain why Illinois is so resistant to education reform!

Federal Candidates (President, Senate, House)

  • Campaign Finance Reports and Data: Contributions to federal campaigns (president, senate, U.S. house) can be analyzed at this site.

  • Open Secrets: Another great source for information on contributions and contributors in federal campaigns.

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