By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
Opponents of the city’s tax hike measure on the Nov. 8 ballot have logged a complaint claiming Peoria officials are using taxpayer dollars to influence its outcome.
Attorney Kory Langhofer’s complaint filed last week with the state attorney general’s office also states a political group supporting the proposition violated campaign finance rules. Mr. Langhofer represents “PAC No Forever Tax, No on Proposition 400,” which was created by District 21 state lawmakers, Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria.
Proposition 400 asks voters to fund amenities in Peoria, such as public safety, open space, recreation and other quality of life enhancements for about $146 million, through a 0.4 percent sales tax increase.
The complaint states the city used public monies to engineer the success of the proposition and that the “Yes for Peoria” group, a political action committee supporting the proposition formed by members of Peoria’s Quality of Life Ad Hoc Committee, failed to identify major donors in its advertising.
Mr. Langhofer said both actions violate state law.
The city has denied any wrongdoing and the pro-proposition PAC said it followed all Federal Election Commission regulations regarding pre-recorded phone calls.
Mr. Langhofer said the city paid to promote the proposition through avenues, including mailers, websites, and pamphlets in city water bills, which commented favorably on the measure, rather than providing neutral and impartial facts and arguments.
In doing so, Mr. Langhofer said, the city violated the statewide ban on publicly funded electioneering.
Although not expressly calling for a vote in favor of Proposition 400, the city’s literature presented a “cheery and lopsided” picture of the need for additional funds and the effects of the proposed sales tax, showing the benefits but only mentioning the drawbacks of the proposition in passing, Mr. Langhofer said.
“The rule is that you have to be perfectly fair and neutral. It talks about how great the proposition is, but it was not even-handed. You can’t use taxpayer dollars to do this unless you are perfectly fair and neutral,” he said. “City Hall wants more money and they want this to pass and they are using city dollars to do it.”
The complaint continues that the “Yes for Peoria” committee paid for at least five robocalls to city voters in which the disclaimer failed to identify the committee’s funding sources.
“The committee’s failure to identify its major funding sources in the robocall disclaimer presents a clear and unambiguous violation” of the law, the complaint said.
Peoria released a statement to Independent Newsmedia but did not comment further on the complaint.
“Educational outreach is a normal process that cities undergo during election season to ensure that citizens are provided with factual information and are able to make informed decisions when voting,” said the statement. “The city’s educational information does not advocate a position. It simply states what the source of funds in question would be used for, the planned financing source, and how the proposition was brought forward. As with any ballot proposition, the ultimate decision is up to our residents.”
Clay Allsop, “Yes For Peoria” campaign treasurer, sent a statement to Independent Media stating the committee followed all FEC regulations regarding pre-recorded phone calls, but did not comment further on the complaint.
“We believe it remains unclear if these calls are subject to the FEC regulations covered by the statute listed in the complaint, but in an abundance of caution, we have disclosed the committee name and phone number at the end of every call. We have not received a single question regarding our donors from a phone call,” the statement continued. “It’s these types of gotcha politics that have people fed-up with politics these days. Whether it’s stealing signs or frivolous complaints, we are sick of underhanded tactics taking away from a very important public policy issue debate in the city of Peoria.”
The battle over Proposition 400 has heated up in recent weeks as the election nears. Last week, officials with “Yes for Peoria” filed a complaint with the Peoria Police Department claiming at least 50 of its political signs have been either damaged, knocked down or stolen.