Illinoisans in a Fog over Personal Use of Campaign Funds

Article excerpt

When state Rep. Robert LeFlore Jr. died last spring, his funeral expenses and cemetery plot were paid out of his campaign fund.

LeFlore's fund was later closed when $13,307.98 was transferred to something called Citizens for Better Government in Austin at the same address in Chicago where LeFlore lived. Austin is a neighborhood of Chicago near Oak Park.

It's also the address for LeFlore's daughter, Cassandra, and her husband, Norris Stevenson, who wants to take his father-in-law's place in the Illinois House.

There is no telephone listed for Citizens for Better Government in Austin. State officials say it's not a business, a charity or a political campaign fund.

So what is Citizens for Better Government in Austin? And what does it plan to do with the money from LeFlore's campaign fund?

"Nothing's been done with it," said Cassandra LeFloref, who is a receptionist for House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago.

"When we get everything decided, we can call you," she added. "As soon as we try to figure out something, I can tell you exactly what it's going to do with it."

Legally, that money must go to a charity or another political fund if it is not returned to LeFlore's campaign contributors. "In no case," state law says, "shall these funds be used for the personal aggrandizement of any committee member or campaign worker." `In Eyes Of Beholder'

Missouri's law is similar to Illinois' on the question of personal use. Money can be used for certain expenses associated with the office or former office, be returned to donors or donated to other candidates or charity. Upon death of a candidate or official, money in a fund must be disposed of the same way. Also, any money remaining after two years becomes the property of the state of Missouri. Illinois has no time limit.

"What it amounts to is they can't pocket it," said Mike Reed of the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Illinois election officials say they have no legal authority to decide if any bills, such as those from LeFlore's funeral, were personal or political expenses.

"I might characterize it as a huge amorphous area that defies logic," said Ronald Michaelson, executive director of the State Board of Elections. "It's in the eyes of the beholder."

But in the eyes of a government watchdog, LeFlore's funeral arrangements were strictly personal and therefore shouldn't have been paid with his campaign money.

"He's dead. He's not going to run again," said Tracy Litsey, executive director of Common Cause/Illinois, a group that has repeatedly failed to convince legislators to timpose limits on their use of campaign funds. …