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What’s influencing your candidate? Follow the money through group’s Sunshine Database

by Diana Novak
Jan 27, 2011

Now that politicians are required to say where their money comes from almost the instant they get it, one group is taking the law a step further to help voters find patterns of influence.

As of next week, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is taking campaign reports and making the information much more accessible and searchable, going so far as to show where the money comes from as well as where it goes.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires more disclosures by candidates and more frequent reporting of the money collected in their campaign accounts. It also puts a cap on individual, organization and political committee donations to candidates.

David Morrison, the organization’s deputy director, said posting the data is a way of keeping an eye on special interests.

“We’ll be far more current than we’ve ever been, and I think we’ll be far more useful as a result,” he said.

The Campaign for Political Reform is a non-profit, non-partisan group that advocates for government transparency and voter education.

Morrison said the organization plans to have all the data up in the next few days, and will update the site once or twice a week through election day.

People can search the data by contributor, a contrast with the Illinois State Board of Elections database, which lists individual contributions by candidate or fundraising committee.

ICPR has compiled the data so it is clear exactly how much each contributor has given in the past year, even if they gave it in many installments. The data comes out before each Illinois election.

“It’s all about connecting the dots,” Morrison said. “By putting it in a format that is easy to see, it’s easier to connect the dots.”

Brad McMillan, director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University in Peoria and a former member of the Illinois Reform Commission, said the update is a great step forward for voters. The commission was appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to examine government practices and ethics, including campaign finance reform, amid the federal investigation into Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“The State Board of Elections is going to take its direction and charge from the Illinois General Assembly and unfortunately while there was some campaign finance reform passed in the last legislative session, it didn’t go nearly far enough,” McMillan said.

“I think what the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is doing in trying to provide voters and citizens with donation records in a more user-friendly manner is outstanding.”