Suffredin- Changing County Government  
 

Accountability
Forest Preserves
Public Safety
Cook County Budget
Forest Pres. Budget
Property Tax Appeal
Health & Hospitals
Land Bank Authority
Policy Resolutions
Unsung Heroine

 

   
 
   
   
 
   
     
  Office phone numbers:  
   
 
 

Search current and proposed Cook County Legislation in Larry's exclusive legislative library.

   
 

The Cook County Code of Ordinances are the current laws of Cook County.

   
  Cook County is the second most populous county in the nation. It is the 19th largest government in the U.S.
   
     
     
     



Assessor Berrios loses court fight to overturn Cook County's limits on campaign donations

Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Ray Long, Hal Dardick

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios on Tuesday lost his court challenge to the county’s campaign contribution limits, marking a legal and political setback that could restrict how much property tax appeals lawyers who handle cases before his office pour into the assessor’s political funds.

Berrios, whose political committees were fined $41,000 for accepting donations exceeding caps set by the county’s ethics ordinance, is expected to appeal. The move likely would allow him to keep the political cash flowing as he heads into the last week of a Democratic primary race in which he seeks his third term.

“We respect the court and the judge, in particular, but we think the decision is wrong,” said Kevin Forde, who represented Berrios in court and before the county ethics board, which levied the fines. “We are hopeful and confident we’ll prevail on appeal.”

Berrios, who also is Cook County Democratic Party chairman, argued the county ordinance was unfair, vague and unconstitutional. The 2016 ordinance says donors may contribute no more than $750 in nonelection years, and $1,500 in election years, if they have sought “official action” from the county in the previous four years. The ethics probe covered January to March 2017.

Circuit Judge Sanjay Tailor ruled against all major points raised by the Berrios team, which sought a summary judgment on an expedited basis. Forde said he also would seek an expedited hearing in the Appellate Court, pending Berrios’ approval to take his challenge further.

Berrios’ lawyers contended the county rules violate the state constitution because only the Illinois legislature has authority to set campaign contribution limits. They said the rules also violated the U.S. Constitution because they limited the free-speech rights of tax appeal attorneys.

The county board, which approved the limits, maintained it has the power to set more restrictive limits on campaign cash to avoid quid pro quo politics. The judge agreed, saying the state legislature has exclusive authority over voter registration and election mechanics but not campaign finance.

In ruling against Berrios, Tailor pointed to the phrase, “All politics is local,” made famous by former U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, in explaining that home-rule powers are to be liberally interpreted when it comes to “the issue of real and perceived political corruption.”

Tailor maintained local governments “may enact their own laws governing campaign finance for local elections so long as they do not touch on voter registration or the mechanical procedures for holding elections.”

“Because the issue of the relationship between campaign finance and quid pro quo corruption and its appearance is essentially local in nature, the county has home-rule authority to limit campaign contributions for elected county offices,” Tailor ruled.

Berrios has continued to accept contributions that exceed county limits from the attorneys and law firms whose previous contributions triggered the fines by the ethics panel.

In a separate hearing Tuesday, the county ethics board rejected a Berrios motion to reconsider its $41,000 in fines.

The ethics board’s ruling said it appeared that Berrios made a “strategic decision” to challenge the campaign limits “to try to raise as much money from interested donors as possible now with a consequential election looming and worry about the consequences later.”

“That calculation, while potentially politically expedient, provides no legal grounds for reconsideration,” the ruling said.

Berrios has received more than $300,000 in large contributions so far this year, with most of the money coming from property tax appeals attorneys, after raising more than $450,000 from those attorneys in late 2016 and all of 2017. Much of that money came from attorneys whose contributions far exceeded the campaign contribution limits set by the county.

In his court case, Berrios also argued the county limits were unfair because he is not independently wealthy and needed to be able to raise funds to compete against challenger Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi, an Oak Park asset manager who has pumped $1.55 million of his own funds into his campaign to defeat the incumbent.

Under state law, when a candidate contributes more than $100,000 of his or her own money, donation limits that apply to all individuals are removed for the candidates in that race.

Berrios’ attorneys cited that law in saying that the property tax attorneys should have not face county-imposed restrictions in this race. In effect, they argued that the state law should cancel out the county limits. But the judge ruled that particular provision in Illinois law does not apply to the county ethics ordinance.

The judge acknowledged the words “official action” were undefined in the county ordinance, a point Berrios lawyers said made the law so unclear it could include an act as simple as getting a marriage license. But the judge noted the ethics board has interpreted official actions to include the appearances of attorneys and law firms who went before the assessor and the Board of Review, another venue for appeals.

Numerous property tax attorneys had contributed more than $750 to Berrios, prompting the ethics board to act. In July, ethics officials sent Berrios notices for receiving excessive contributions, both as chair of his own campaign fund and as chair of the political fund of the 31st Ward, his power base.

Berrios refused to return the contributions, and the ethics board meted out $1,000 fines for each of 41 violations, totaling $41,000.

When Berrios went to court, he was joined in the suit by one of those attorneys, John Norris.

Berrios’ practice of accepting campaign contributions from property tax lawyers was highlighted in “The Tax Divide,” a Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois series that concluded Berrios’ assessment practices favored the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Tax appeals, which have flourished under Berrios, only make the system less fair, the series concluded and a recent independent study commissioned by county officials confirmed.

In an unusual move, Tailor cited “The Blues Brothers” movie from 1980 as he worked through issues in the case and the complex structure of the Cook County property tax system.

He noted the Blues brothers, Jake and Elwood, paid a Catholic orphanage’s tax bill at the assessor’s office, even though the county treasurer collects those payments and not-for-profit institutions like the church don’t pay property taxes.

rlong@chicagotribune.com

hdardick@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @RayLong

Twitter @ReporterHal



Recent Headlines

Preckwinkle counters IG report on Cook hospitals, says system continues 'to reform and modernize'
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Clerk Brown, vendors discuss e-filing users’ first steps in Cook County
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wilmette to reconsider adopting Cook County minimum wage, sick time laws next month
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Bill to keep pregnant women out of jail while they await trial reaches governor's desk
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Chicago Tribune

2018 ASIAN AMERICAN PACIFIC ISLANDER HERITAGE MONTH OBSERVANCE MAY 01 – MAY 31, 2018
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Special to suffredin.org

Inspector general: Cook County hospitals lost roughly $165 million due to widespread errors
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Chicago Tribune

3 Cook County police vehicles damaged in Oak Forest crashes
Sunday, May 13, 2018
Daily Southtown

Seattle Soda Tax Revenue Is Exceeding Projections
Friday, May 11, 2018
Governing Magazin

Facebook: Cook County data mining lawsuit designed to benefit only county government, its hired lawyers
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Cook County Record

Cutting court interpreters threatens due process rights, even victim safety, union says
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Chicago Reader

Assessor’s Office new residential property assessment model unveiled for Tax Year 2018 reassessment
Wednesday, May 02, 2018
Special to suffredin.org

CEDA scholarships
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Special to suffredin.org

County’s ‘Scavenger’ Sale To Boost Blighted Neighborhoods
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
WBEZ Public Radio

Cook County selling nearly 3,200 vacant lots to encourage redevelopment
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Cook County property owners with past-due tax bills could face steeper payments after Friday
Monday, April 30, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Cook Sheriff: Backpage, attorneys owe Cook County for 'hoax' suit over sheriff's credit card squeeze
Friday, April 27, 2018
Cook County Record

Two Cook County branch courthouses could close in budget cuts that followed pop tax repeal
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Western Springs Board votes to follow county ordinance, raising minimum wage to $11 this year
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Pioneer Press

Mother files complaint, says while she was at Daley Center for jury duty, staff sent her to men’s room to pump breast milk
Monday, April 23, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Challenge to filing fee has some worth
Monday, April 16, 2018
Chicago Daily law Bulletin

all news items

Paid for by Larry Suffredin and not at taxpayer expense. A Haymarket Production.
^ TOP