Updated: January 22, 2013 6:21AM
We’re not sure why, but Dorothy Brown, Cook County’s imperious circuit court clerk, has finally decided to end her controversial policy of accepting campaign donations from her employees.
That’s good news, particularly for the workers. Brown should’ve done this years ago, but it takes longer for some politicians to get the message than others. Especially if they don’t have to worry much about being re-elected.
Brown, circuit court clerk since 2000, has been criticized for years for the outdated political practice, most recently by her opponent in the March Democratic primary election, Chicago Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd).
She insists the criticism had nothing to do with her decision. In a memo to staff, she emphasizes that taking contributions from employees does not violate any county or state ethics rules, but she has simply changed her mind and will stop doing so as she heads into a fourth term in office.
The problem with a public official getting campaign donations from employees is that it places them in a difficult position — applying not-so-subtle pressure that they come up with the money to remain in favor or even keep their job.
The donations, of course, are not required (that would violate free speech rights!). And some employees are willing to give, viewing it as part of the job and enhancing job security by helping keep their boss in office.
Taking campaign contributions from employees once was commonplace in Illinois but fell out of favor during the past decade due to ethics reforms stemming from the licenses-for-bribes scandal in the secretary of state’s office under George Ryan. Some workers testified about how pressure to donate to Ryan’s campaigns contributed to employees trading driver’s licenses for bribes.
But Brown never got the memo. Not surprising when you consider that she also used to take cash gifts from her workers for Christmas and her birthday until dropping that in 2009 under public criticism.
Now, for whatever reason, she’s seen the light and made things right.