Did Barack Obama Violate the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act?--

Paul Caron has Barack and Michelle Obama’s tax returns on his website (tip to Instapundit). The first thing that jumped out is that in some years Barack received no speaking fees or honoraria. Apparently, as an Illinois state legislator through 2004, Barack was prohibited from taking honoraria for speaking under the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act.

But what about Barack Obama’s 2000 and 2002 tax returns?

2000: On his 2000 Schedule C-EZ, Barack reported that he received $16,500 as a “Foundation director/Educational speaker.”

2001: On his 2001 Schedule C-EZ, Barack reported $98,158 from a Chicago law firm, Miner, Barnhill, for “Legal services/attorney” (and nothing for speaking).

2002: On his 2002 Schedule C, Barack reported $34,491 for “LEGAL SERVCES / SPEAKING FEES.”

These “speaking fees” are in addition to the amounts that Barack was paid as an employee, a lecturer at the University of Chicago, reported on the first page of his 1040s.

The Illinois Governmental Ethics Act (apparently last changed in 1995) provides:

(5 ILCS 420/2-110)

Sec. 2-110. Honoraria.

(a) No member of the General Assembly shall accept any honorarium.

(b) As used in this Section:

"Honorarium" means a payment of money to a member of the General Assembly for an appearance or speech, excluding any actual and necessary travel expenses incurred by the member of the General Assembly (and one relative) to the extent that those expenses are paid by any other person. "Honorarium" does not include (i) cash payments made on behalf of a member of the General Assembly to an organization described under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, (ii) an agent's fee or commission, or (iii) funds reported under Article 9 of the Election Code [i.e., campaign contributions].

"Travel expense" means the reasonable cost of transportation and the reasonable cost of lodging and meals incurred while a person is away from his or her residence or principal place of employment.

(c) Any honorarium or honoraria accepted in violation of this Section shall be surrendered to the State Treasurer and deposited into the General Revenue Fund. (Source: P.A. 89 405, eff. 11-8-1995.)

Did Barack Obama violate this over-restrictive Illinois ethics act? Without knowing the precise situations and sources of these “SPEAKING FEES” in 2002 and payments as an “Educational speaker” in 2000, it is impossible to be certain whether any of this compensation meets the statutory definition of “a payment of money to a member of the General Assembly for an appearance or speech.”

Also, I wonder whether Obama has rectified this problem in some way that I have not heard about. If not, I wonder whether Barack or his campaign has some explanation for accepting “SPEAKING FEES” or whether at this late date he should “surrender” several thousand dollars to the Illinois State Treasurer.

(Of course, my quick analysis assumes that Obama received no speaking fees besides those reported on his 2000 and 2002 tax returns — and thus has paid all the federal taxes he owed.)

UPDATE: More on the Obama Tax Returns:

Byron York

Michelle Malkin

Victor

Macranger

In the comments below, ReaderY notes just how silly such ethics statutes are:

On the speaking fees issue only, Winston Churchill didn't inherit the family wealth and for many years had to speak and write for his living, despite being a Member of Parliament. At the time this was not considered a dishonorable way to live. Are we now living in an age where Winston Churchill's way of life would be considered unethical?

And in part we have John McCain to thank for our current over-restrictive federal regime governing campaign ethics.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Plagiarism at MyDD.--
  2. Did Barack Obama Violate the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act?--
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Plagiarism at MyDD.--

[UPDATE Monday, 12:40pm: On two computers that I tried this morning, the Powerblogs page that we use for posting and updating the Volokh Conspiracy was unreachable. Also, I noticed that there were no posts from other VC bloggers on Monday morning, typically one of our heavier posting times. At some hours this morning, I also had trouble reaching the main VC site, but at other hours I had no problems. After I contacted Powerblogs directly, our site was running normally within minutes (thanks to Chris Lansdown).

Some commenters below thought I should have been even more emphatic in emphasizing what I wrote below: "I do not know what Mr. Jefferson's precise position is at MyDD, but I should point out that many sites with diarists know little about them, so one should not judge the website MyDD by Mr. Jefferson."

The plagiarized story by Mr. Jefferson has now been removed from MyDD, though Mr. Jefferson's other posts remain. Here is a picture of the original MyDD story as it appeared on MyDD early this morning.]

I came across this post at the popular political website MyDD:

Did Obama Violate the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act?

by Thomas J Jefferson, Wed Mar 26, 2008 at 12:18:48 PM EST

Paul Caron has Barack and Michelle Obama's tax returns on his website, TaxProf Blog.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/ 2008/03/obama-releases.html

The first thing that jumped out is that in some years Barack received no speaking fees or honoraria. Apparently, as an Illinois state legislator through 2004, Barack was prohibited from taking honoraria for speaking under the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act.

But what about Barack Obama's 2000 and 2002 tax returns?

2000: On his 2000 Schedule C-EZ, Barack reported that he received $16,500 as a "Foundation director/Educational speaker."

2001: On his 2001 Schedule C-EZ, Barack reported $98,158 from a Chicago law firm, Miner, Barnhill, for "Legal services/attorney" (and nothing for speaking).

2002: On his 2002 Schedule C, Barack reported $34,491 for "LEGAL SERVCES / SPEAKING FEES."

These "speaking fees" are in addition to the amounts that Barack was paid as an employee, a lecturer at the University of Chicago, reported on the first page of his 1040s.

Note the purported author, John[Thomas] J. Jefferson, and the date, March 26.

I would be guilty of extreme understatement if I were to say that this post sounded awfully familiar when I first read it, since I had written and published the same post (with only a few words different) on the Volokh Conspiracy the night before before Mr. Jefferson's post.

Here was my post at the Volokh Conspiracy on the evening of March 25:

[Jim Lindgren, March 25, 2008 at 9:55pm] Trackbacks

DID BARACK OBAMA VIOLATE THE ILLINOIS GOVERNMENTAL ETHICS ACT?--

At the moment I write this, I am not named in Jefferson's post and The Volokh Conspiracy is neither named nor linked to.

The commenters to Jefferson’s post at MyDD appear to treat him as the author, one stating: “If you understand that it's impossible to be certain; why do you use a dozen paragraphs to ask the question?”

An earlier post by Jefferson sparked complaints about his linking practices, though (at least after adding a link to the original story he was quoting) no plagiarism was involved in that earlier post.

I do not know what Mr. Jefferson's precise position is at MyDD, but I should point out that many sites with diarists know little about them, so one should not judge the website MyDD by Mr. Jefferson.

Comments