Evanston Smear PAC Thumbs Nose at Campaign Finance Law

As widely reported, Evanston's ongoing municipal elections have been disrupted by negative mailings from a new, mysterious political committee  ("PAC") called Evanston Together, attacking five  candidates -- four challengers and one incumbent alderman, Tom Suffredin (6th) -- with false accusations. The PAC falsely accused the five of wanting to "abolish" Evanston's 70-year-old managerial form of government, when no candidate had been campaigning on such a plank or said that. In the case of one candidate, Clare Kelly, running a strong First Ward campaign, the attacks slunk into sheer character assassination. Now it appears the group, a chief contributor of which is lame-duck mayor Steve Hagerty, has also been violating Illinois campaign finance law by concealing the contributions and expenditures until this very late date.

The D-2 form just filed by the PAC shows two contributions of $5,000, one by Hagerty and one by a Wilmette resident who reportedly co-owns Evanston property, and one contribution of $1,000, all dated 3/24, along with expenditures of ~$13,000, none earlier than 3/26. The contribution and expenditure dates raised my eyebrows because voters have been receiving these mailings since mid-March. However, even taking the dates reported at face value, it looks like violation of law.



Contributions of $1000 or more to a political committee in the 30 days before an election must be reported electronically on a Schedule A-1 within 2 business days if the committee is “participating” in the election. 10 ILCS 5/9-10(c).  While a loophole (meant to forgive ordinary processing, not encourage holding back) says a paper check is not “received” until deposited, in this case the $5,000 contributions from Hagerty and Halim were received 3/24/2021. The committee was required to report that on a Schedule A-1 no later than 3/26/2021, a week ago, when the furor over the misleading and negative mailings was in full swing. The state elections site shows none. So the press and voters didn't get to see who was funding this PAC until the Easter weekend, only days before the election.

Also, any “independent expenditure” (supporting or opposing a candidate, not by the candidate but by a committee not coordinating with the candidate) of over $1000 in the 60 days before an election should be reported within 2 business days, on a Schedule B-1. 10 ILCS 5/9-10(e). See also p. 15 of the Campaign Disclosure Guide.

Again, even accepting the doubtful dates, the nearly $10,000 reported paid to the printer on March 26 should have been reported by March 30. The PAC's not doing so seems a separate violation of Illinois campaign finance law, and it kept info from the voters.

Note, the above assumes that these expenditures are independent.  If spending is not independent, but is coordinated with one or more other candidates or committees, then under 10 ILCS 5/9-1.4(A)(5) it is a contribution by that PAC to a candidate that the candidate should report. Evanston Together’s report only notes “multiple aldermanic candidates” as "beneficiaries" of its spending.

The chief contributor to the PAC, Hagerty, is also a contributor to candidates the PAC is supporting, although incumbent Alds. Melissa Wynne (3rd) and Eleanor Revelle (7th) to their credit issued statements distancing themselves from Evanston Together, and deploring the mailings. Hagerty clearly coordinated with the Katie Trippi campaign to unseat Suffredin on a pitch her campaign put out with a long endorsement by the mayor. The PAC has put extra effort into the 1st Ward race, but incumbent Judy Fiske denies involvement. Whether there is more or less ongoing would depend on more information, such who is actually quarterbacking all this, which at the moment is opaque.

Non-reporting during an election can be grounds for complaint to the Board of Elections or could even warrant an injunction sought by the State’s Attorney or Attorney General. 10 ILCS 5/9-28.5(c). Any political committee can potentially sue the violator and seek an injunction. 10 ILCS 5/9-28.5(d). However, I'm unaware of much if any use of those clauses. When attacks and reports come so late, legal action -- never easy during a campaign -- is difficult.

The only real remedy here is the hope that the voters are dismayed by what has occurred in this election and take the remaining few days before April 6 to really study what is going on in the City of Evanston.

The foregoing is my own opinion and analysis as a longtime participant in Evanston affairs and a sometime election lawyer and not as representative of Central Street Neighbors Association. -- Jeff Smith


Statement by Eleanor Revelle in response to Evanston Together mailings: Regarding the recent mailings from Evanston Together LLC:  
I did not solicit the endorsement of this group nor are its materials being distributed with my support.  The mailings are very unwelcome and, in my view, are very un-Evanston-like.

From the beginning, my opponent (Mary Rosinski) and I have conducted very civil and respectful campaigns, and it saddens me greatly that this negative messaging should insert itself into the race in our ward — or anywhere in Evanston. Our focus should be on laying the foundation for the new City Council to find common ground and work together for the good of the whole community.

I will continue to focus my campaign on the work we need to do to achieve an equitable recovery from the pandemic and on the specific policy areas where I believe I can make a real difference: listening to the concerns of the 7th Ward, championing climate action, expanding affordable housing, and reimagining public safety.