The Riverside Community Caucus, an organization that interviews and endorses candidates running for village trustee and president, will soon begin vetting those hoping to win the group’s blessing as the 2019 Consolidated Election approaches next spring.
But, any candidates selected by the Caucus won’t be able to count on any financial support from the group, because this summer the Illinois State Board of Elections shut down the Riverside Community Caucus political committee after it failed to file multiple quarterly campaign disclosure reports, commonly referred to as D-2 reports, or filed them late.
In addition, the Illinois State Board of Elections levied $17,275 in fines against the political committee for six violations, four for filing late D-2s and two for not filing them at all.
“I take complete and utter responsibility for this,” said John Mathews, president of the Riverside Community Caucus.
At the same time, Mathews said the Caucus had already been moving away from being perceived as a political party. It hasn’t raised money or spent anything on a campaign for nearly a decade, and the organization itself essentially lies dormant every other year before springing to life for a few months to vet candidates.
“I don’t believe the Caucus is a political committee. It doesn’t operate as a political committee,” Mathews said. “That’s one of the things I’ve been consistent on. I didn’t think we should be [raising money for campaigns].”
Because the Riverside Community Caucus political committee has been something of a zombie committee for the past nine years, Mathews said he just assumed the board of elections would make it inactive.
“The way I understood it was, if we’re not raising money or spending money, I didn’t think I needed to do [the quarterly reports],” Mathews said. “I assumed they’d just wind us up.”
But that assumption ran counter to campaign disclosure laws, and while the board of elections did, indeed, notice that the committee had gone dormant, the state still required D-2s every quarter.
Beginning in November 2015, the board of elections started levying fines for D-2s that hadn’t been filed. The Caucus ended up filing four of those reports late, but failed to file any report for the first and second quarters of 2017. Those lapses earned the Caucus fines of $5,000 each.
Matt Dietrich, the public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said political committees are notified when they don’t file quarterly reports.
“In this case, they had not responded to our attempts to reach them for a year,” Dietrich said. “When they just stop filing reports, we deem them inactive.”
On July 18, the state board of elections sent a letter to the Caucus notifying them that the political committee had been terminated but that the $17,275 in fine would remain in force.
Dietrich said the state board of elections likely would refer the matter to the Illinois Attorney General, but that it was unlikely the state board of elections would ever collect the full amount of the fines.
“The attorney general can pursue collection with the committee, but realistically it’s not highly likely they’ll collect on this, based on past experience,” Dietrich said.
The attorney general may succeed in obtaining the roughly $3,200 remaining in the political committee’s fund balance at the time of its termination. But beyond that, collection is unlikely.
According to Dietrich, no one is held personally liable for the fines, only the political committee, which doesn’t exist any longer.
If the political committee was run by a particular candidate, for example Friends of John Doe, the state board could prohibit that candidate from appearing on a future ballot unless the fines were paid, but with the political action committee like the Riverside Community Caucus, “We don’t have that stick to hold over them,” Dietrich said.
Mathews indicated that the Caucus doesn’t have an interest in creating a successor committee, though the organization is still active as a candidate vetting group. If candidates endorsed by the Caucus want to form their own committees or one committee for a slate, they are free to do so without the help of the Caucus.
According to Mathews, the Caucus – a small group of roughly two dozen residents, about half of whom could be considered “active” — has not started interviewing candidates yet, but will begin that process soon. They’ll announce endorsements in November.
Mathews says while the Caucus is a small organization it provides a valuable role in Riverside by recruiting and vetting people to run for public office.
“It’s entirely possible without someone going out and seeking candidates that nobody would run,” Mathews said. “I’ll never discourage anyone else from running against us. I think it’s healthy, but I just haven’t seen it.”
Riverside has had a contested election for village president and trustee just once since 2003. That was in 2009, the last time the Caucus raised and spent money on a campaign.
Nominating petitions for the 2019 Consolidated Election must be filed between Dec. 10 and 17.
As of now, there are no active political committees for Riverside candidates seeking to run for any of the three open trustee seats in 2019.