Naperville City Council continues discussion on public disclosure of campaign contributions

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City council members continued their discussion on a section of the Naperville Municipal Code requiring the disclosure of certain campaign contributions.

The code requires council members to announce publicly if they have accepted a campaign contribution in excess of $750 prior to voting on a relevant matter. Since it was only the first reading of the ordinance, no action was taken during Wednesday’s council meeting.

March 21 dispute between Chirico and Sullivan

The initial dispute at the March 21 council meeting centered around a campaign mailer created by Naperville Forward, a political action committee (PAC) led by councilwoman Theresa Sullivan. The flyer claimed that some candidates in the April 4 election supported book bans, and planned to put forth “a fanatical agenda” if elected. No specific candidate names were mentioned.

During the council meeting, Mayor Steve Chirico called the flyer “dirty politics” and said it created a cloud over the dais. Sullivan rebutted the statements from Chirico, saying the issue did not belong in council.

Later in the March 21 meeting, Chirico accused Sullivan of failing to notify council about union donations Naperville Forward received, before she voted with the 7-2 majority on a responsible bidders ordinance (RBO).

Sullivan denied the allegations about violating the campaign donations portion of the ethics ordinance. She admitted Naperville Forward received $5,000 from the labor union, but said it did not impact her vote.

April 5 discussion on the code of conduct

At Wednesday’s meeting, Chirico called the requirement to disclose campaign funding a “gotcha ordinance.”

“You’re all going to be trapped constantly,” said Chirico. “And that is not going to be a productive way for this council to operate further. It’s led to outside money coming into our community, state party money, PAC money, which has been non-transparent, having to opposite intended effect of this ordinance.”

Sullivan responded with support for the ordinance, saying it was “bewildering” the council was considering a repeal.

“(The ordinance) is based on the idea that the public should know if someone with an issue before city council has made a large campaign contribution to a person with the power to decide the outcome,” said Sullivan. “Repealing it now ensures that the winners of (the April 4) election are immediately absolved from having to have this transparency.”

Updating the current ordinance

Chirico recommended the dais rescind the ordinance and leave city staff and the new council with the job of creating campaign disclosure rules that are “updated and modernized.”

“This ordinance is flawed badly, and we need to get it fixed,” said Chirico. “The best way to fix it is for the next council to make decisions on what it should look like.”

Councilman Ian Holzhauer thought an outright repeal of the ordinance was not the best route for this council.

“I do think there are ways this ordinance can be improved,” said Holzhauer. “I definitely think it would be worthwhile to have a working group on the next council add some prongs where there are additional ways the council has accountability.”

Including PACs in the conduct code

Councilman Patrick Kelly saw no reason to repeal the current ordinance, rather he suggested a simple addition. 

“Add one sentence saying it also applies to contributions to a PAC that has an officer sitting as a council member,” said Kelly. “To repeal it altogether and say new council you deal with creating something new doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”

Council will revisit this ordinance at its next meeting.

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