CHICAGO – A coalition of business, clergy and civic leaders has launched a petition drive and fundraising efforts for a 2016 ballot question aimed at changing how Illinois draws political boundaries, an initiative group that officials said Tuesday builds on a previous failed attempt.
Independent Maps, which wants to take the mapmaking process out of the hands of politicians and give it to an independent commission, said the state's once-a-decade process of redistricting is too political. The group bills itself as nonpartisan and board members include former Tribune Company CEO Dennis FitzSimons, former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, the Rev. Byron Brazier of Chicago's Apostolic Church of God and former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner.
FitzSimons, the group's chairman, said they'd made changes to a proposal a judge found unconstitutional in 2014 and planned to raise more than $3 million, the amount previously spent. FitzSimons, chairman of the Robert McCormick Foundation, has donated $25,000 of his own money to the effort and the McCormick Foundation has donated $250,000, according to state campaign finance filings.
"This is a bipartisan issue of slanting the maps," FitzSimons said. "What we're going after is not any individual or party. We're going after the process. That's what needs to be changed. "
The Independent Map Amendment would establish an 11-member commission with geographic and demographic diversity and it would require 7 commissioners to approve a map, including at least two Democrats and two Republicans. A review panel, chosen at random from a pool of registered voters who adhere to "standards of ethical conduct," would select commission members.
However, members of the previous attempt, Yes for Independent Maps, were skeptical. Former spokesman Michael Kolenc questioned whether the new group had Republican and corporate leanings, which he called "problematic."
In filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections, the group's address is listed as the law office of John Fogarty, who serves as legal counsel to the Illinois Republican Party. The filing also states that the group is not affiliated with any political party.
FitzSimons and others dismissed the notion that the group is aligned with the GOP. They said initial interest started while former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn was in office and the group hasn't had any contact with Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration so far.
He said changing the mapmaking process would hopefully lead to more people running for office and elected leaders more in tune with constituents.
The ballot question, which will need almost 300,000 signatures, falls during a presidential election when the push to boost turnout for both parties will be intense.
Rauner made pushing a ballot measure for term limits a major part of his gubernatorial campaign; the effort was also ruled unconstitutional by the same Cook County judge last summer.
Last year, an attorney connected to some of Illinois' top Democrats brought a lawsuit that challenged both the term limits and map questions, something which Republicans repeatedly brought up. The map amendment was also plagued by issues over signatures and paperwork with election officials.
Political lines for the U.S. House and state legislative districts are drawn every 10 years based on new Census data.
The last time Illinois drew its political boundaries, Democrats ran the mapmaking process because they controlled the General Assembly and governor's office. Current maps were signed into law in 2011, but underwent several legal challenges by the GOP.