Senate President Don Harmon gives back red-light camera company’s campaign cash after Sun-Times report

Chicago
By Chicago 4 Min Read

Asked about accepting campaign contributions from a red-light camera contractor weeks after backing a bill prohibiting politicians from accepting money from the troubled industry, a spokesman for Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said this on Oct. 17:

“In the past 20 years, every single campaign-finance reform enacted into law has been an effort Senate President Harmon has sponsored, initiated or vigorously supported. He maintains the highest ethical standards and will continue to do so.”

Now, a little more than a week later, the spokesman says the campaign cash has been given back.

“They returned those two contributions,” the spokesman says, referring to Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate and the ISDF fund for Senate Democrats.

Related
  • Illinois lawmakers banned campaign contributions from red-light camera companies — then accepted them

Each of those campaign funds is run by Harmon, D-Oak Park. Each accepted a $2,500 contribution from Redspeed Illinois on June 30, about six weeks after the General Assembly, with Harmon’s support, passed what was portrayed as reform legislation that banned political contributions from the red-light camera industry and company executives.

The legislation, signed into law July 28, was spurred by corruption scandals involving, among others, a now-former partner in SafeSpeed LLC who was charged with bribing politicians to benefit the business.

In 2016, a separate bribery scandal saw a former chief executive of Redflex Traffic Systems, the city of Chicago’s first red-light camera operator, get 30 months in prison for bribing a city official.

Harmon’s spokesman now says the Illinois Senate president’s acceptance of the Redspeed money was “an oversight” brought to light by a Chicago Sun-Times report. The money “has been returned; your story highlighted the issue.”

The spokesman won’t say who committed the oversight in accepting the money initially.

Besides Harmon, the Sun-Times reported that other legislators also accepted campaign cash from Redspeed after voting on the ban, including:

  • State Rep. Bradley Stephens, a Republican who is also Rosemont’s mayor and voted in the Illinois House on May 25 to pass the red-light contribution ban, then accepted a $2,500 contribution from Redspeed on June 30.
  • State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, who voted for the bill May 25, then accepted a $2,000 campaign contribution from RedSpeed on June 8.
  • State Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, who voted in favor of the bill May 19, then accepted a $1,000 campaign contribution from Redspeed on June 29.

The law covers “any candidate or public official,” so “state and local officials are subject to the prohibition,” according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

The Sun-Times also reported that the new law doesn’t ban campaign contributions from lobbyists for the red-light camera industry and that the elections board says the measure carries no penalties for violations.

One of the main sponsors of the legislation, state Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, says: “The intention of my legislation is to establish ethical guidelines to address ongoing concerns regarding automated traffic enforcement. If the law does not work as intended, I will work with the State Board of Elections to ensure it does.”

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Democrat from downstate Belleville, voted in favor of the red-light contribution ban and accepted $1,000 from Redspeed on Sept. 11, according to elections board records that were subsequently amended by Hoffman to delete references to the contribution.

Hoffman said: “There was an error made, and the error has been corrected, the check has been returned, and proper paperwork with the State Board of Elections has been filed.”

Redspeed wouldn’t comment.

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