The BGA, in collaboration with ABC7, hosted a public forum on March, 7th with the candidates for attorney general.
The forum was held at Roosevelt University in Chicago and was moderated by the BGA’s Policy & Civic Engagement Director, Madeleine Doubek, and ABC7 Political Reporter Craig Wall. Candidates were asked about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA), campaign contributions, consumer protection, identity theft, and reform of the Chicago Police Department.
The event was split into two segments, with the Republican candidates Gary Grasso and Erika Harold going first at 6:00 pm. During the forum, Harold defended her decision to accept $300,000 from Governor Bruce Rauner. "I have a record of already standing up for the things that I think are right and opposing him and that's a record," Harold said. When asked about public funding for campaigns, Grasso noted Rauner’s donation to his opponent. “There has to be some level of [public funding],” he said. “We’re getting too many people with independent wealth that have to run for office and not enough people who can do this grassroots-wise.”
The eight Democratic candidates took the stage at 7:00 pm, including candidates Scott Drury, Sharon Fairley, Aaron Goldstein, Renato Mariotti, Pat Quinn, Kwame Raoul, Nancy Rotering, and Jesse Ruiz. A key issue addressed by the candidates was the attorney general’s role in protecting the public’s access to information.
“We should always err on the side of disclosure, and only not disclose information when there is an actual, real interest that could be harmed,” said Fairley when asked about the Rauner administration’s use of FOIA exemptions to withhold documents related to a Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Quincy Veterans’ Home. Mariotti and Raoul suggested that guidelines might be set for the deliberative process exemption that Rauner is using in this case.
Goldstein argued that the next attorney general should litigate cases that come before the public access counselor’s office. Mariotti added that the counselor is “overburdened.” Raoul agreed that more resources were needed, reminding the audience that he sponsored the legislation that originally created the office.
Rotering suggested that more public education was necessary. “It’s vitally important to empower the residents of Illinois and give them, through outreach, and through education, knowledge of what is meant by the Freedom of Information Act and what is meant by the Open Meetings Act,” she said.
Ruiz steered the conversation towards increasing the effectiveness of the public access counselor’s work. “There is always going to be more work than there are resources,” he said. “What we have to do is proactively make sure that all the information that the media, journalists, and citizens are looking for in this era - when you have so much technology at play - [is] put out proactively so that we can re-engineer the workflow.”
Quinn also said more resources were needed for the public access counselor’s office. “We have to always have openness,” he said. Drury challenged Quinn’s stance, claiming it was “impossible” to get documents when Quinn was governor, “even as a government representative.” Drury said, “they used the deliberative process excuse and gave me blacked out documents.”
During both sessions, the moderators took questions from social media on a variety of issues, including the opioid epidemic, whether the candidates support a ban on assault weapons, and whether they would use their office to support efforts that reform the criminal justice system.
The event was live-streamed by ABC7 and is currently available for viewing on the BGA’s Facebook page and the ABC7 website. For more information on the background of the attorney general candidates see the BGA’s voters guide and questionnaire.