Leave it to former TaxFACTS co-founder Bob McQuillan to make an already interesting Geneva School Board election even more fascinating.
On March 15, McQuillan filed a formal complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections alleging the Geneva Education Association failed to form a campaign committee and disclose its spending on behalf of their three endorsed school board candidates.
Of course, the Geneva Education Association is the D304 teachers’ union.
For background purposes, those lucky Land of Lincoln candidates are bound by some of the most eclectic election law on the planet. To wit, while the vast majority states insist political hopefuls form a committee before they start circulating those signature sheets, Illinois stipulates that only candidates who take in or spend five grand, in any combination thereof, are required to do the same.
Given that an honest campaign finance lapse could provide your opponent(s) with an all sorts of ammunition to use against you, and forming a political committee doesn’t cost a dime, I invariably instruct my clients to get the committee ball rolling regardless of what they think they’re gonna spend.
McQuillan claims the GEA crossed that reporting line with what turned out to be the first mailer supporting their school board slate. And if you refuse take GEA head Kevin Gannon’s word for it, something I would generally recommend, he might be right!
It’s also important to note that the GEA sent the same mailer a second time after McQuillan’s complaint was filed.
So, let’s do the math, which starts with an 8.5 x 11 full color mailer sent to GEA members and Geneva Township residents who voted in at least one previous odd-year election. Depending upon whether they used a 2015 or 2017 voter universe, we’re talking 2,500 to 5,500 households.
Thus, a small 5,000-piece print run of a high-end campaign mailer that size generally runs about 70 cents a pop. And postage for that oversized mailer to 2,500 households would cost approximately 50 cents each.
That means the GEA paid $3,000 to $6,000 for just the first round.
That also means when Gannon said “the union spent about only $1,500 on the mailer” he wasn’t exactly telling the truth. No surprise there! But to be fair, if the GEA came out on the lower end of that range, there would be no reporting requirement.
But that’s not all!
The ISBE also requires candidates and contributors to report what they refer to as “in-kind donations,” also subject to that five-grand threshold. For example, if a restaurant owner provides a rent-free party space for a fundraiser, the fair market value of that room is considered a campaign contribution.
And one of the union-backed candidates made the mistake of bragging about everything the GEA has done for them to one of my sources. That included website design, social media help, and campaign material design, which, if reported correctly, probably puts them over that magic number.
But even if it didn’t, that second GEA mailer clearly put them over the reporting top.
So, while it looks like McQuillan’s complaint will be sustained, unless they have previous infractions, the worst the ISBE will do is hit the GEA with a minor fine. But if they simply followed the rules – something they demand of their students – there would be no complaint and I wouldn’t be writing about them – again.
And there’s nothing quite like being put squarely back on your heels with a little more than a week before election day.
I’ll say it again, if you want a school board that puts the taxpayers on an equal footing with the teachers, please vote for Mike McCormick, Jessica Breugelmans, and Al Gaston.
In a final fascinating irony, the GEA did NOT use a union shop to print those mailers, likely because they’re more expensive. We know this because the indicatory “union bug” is nowhere to be found on either piece.
I mentioned that little faux pas to a staunch union friend and his rather terse response was by no means fit for a family blog post.
So much for the GEA standing on principle, right?