Naperville City Council repeals campaign contribution disclosure ordinance

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The Naperville City Council has repealed an ordinance that required council members to publicly disclose accepted campaign donations of $750 or more from an interested party prior to a vote.

The decision came through a 5-4 vote at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Campaign contribution disclosure ordinance repealed after less than three years

During the fall of 2020, former Naperville city councilwoman Theresa Sullivan proposed changes to the city’s ethics code, in an effort to increase transparency in elections and votes. The campaign contribution disclosure ordinance was first implemented in December 2020 after a narrow vote from the dais.

It was part of the city’s municipal code for about two and half years when former Mayor Steve Chirico first proposed a repeal in March 2023. The discussion was then tabled until after this year’s municipal election, so city staff could research potential changes and hold a workshop with the dais.

After months of preparation, the ethics ordinance was on the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting.

Varied opinions on how to handle the ordinance

Current Mayor Scott Wehrli argued the ordinance was not doing its job, and suggested bringing forth a new set of guidelines for disclosing campaign funding.

“We must admit what is on the books today is simply not working,” said Wehrli. “It’s not fair or providing transparency because it is riddled with loopholes and workarounds. We can all judge and vote on a new policy if and when a more viable, fair system is proposed.”

Councilwoman Allison Longenbaugh was in favor of keeping the ordinance, but she wanted to add additional language to address campaign financing from political action committees (PACs) and unions.

Without public participation from a PAC, city council members were not required to disclose campaign funding under the ordinance. PACs insulate their contributors.

“I would be willing to raise the threshold to a thousand (dollars), but I will not support or vote for anything that weakens it, especially to the point of rendering it useless,” said Longenbaugh. “We should have nothing to hide, and it is really not a good look to repeal it.”

Councilman Benny White also voted to keep the ordinance and said repealing it would not eliminate PAC money from Naperville elections.

“If you think that this ordinance is going to encourage or discourage PACs from coming in, then I think that’s wishful thinking,” said White. “They’re here. We had this ordinance in place in the last two elections, and those were probably the most raised money I think I’ve seen for a municipal election.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor voted to repeal the ordinance, calling it “overly complicated.”

“At what point does it get so complicated that it’s no longer usable, and it’s just a gotcha?” said Bruzan Taylor. “And as it stands right now, it has no teeth, so why would we keep it? All the months we’ve had, we’ve not been able to come up with anything better.”

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