The comptroller may not be the most recognizable position in state government. It doesn't have the glamour or political attraction of other statewide offices, such as governor and attorney general. Many voters don't really know what the comptroller actually does. But its position at the heart of state finances has strong interest from a mixed group of candidates who want to be the next "taxpayer watchdog."
The comptroller may not be the most recognizable position in state government. It doesn't have the glamour or political attraction of other statewide offices, such as governor and attorney general.
Many voters don't really know what the comptroller actually does.
But its position at the heart of state finances has strong interest from a mixed group of candidates who want to be the next "taxpayer watchdog."
Here is a look at what you need to know about the comptroller's race heading into the Feb. 2 primary election.
About the office
The comptroller is responsible for maintaining Illinois bank accounts and ordering payments out of the accounts. It also maintains official records regarding state contracts and finances.
The treasurer acts as the state's chief investment officer.
Some have long argued the two offices should merge. That includes Republican Judy Baar Topinka – who wants to be comptroller this year.
Topinka said the merger could save as much as $20 million right away but would need a constitutional amendment, and that's a tall order. She's OK if that stance costs her votes.
"If I would lose the comptroller's job over that, that's fine," Topinka said.
Other candidates for the office argue it's needed to ensure checks and balances on power in state government.
"The question starts to become in terms of ethical considerations," said Rep. David Miller, a Lynwood Democrat running for the seat. "You have the chief fiscal officer, which is the comptroller, being the same person as the chief investment officer, which is the treasurer."
Both political parties have three-candidate fields in the primary.
On the Republican side, the marquee name is Topinka, the former three-term state treasurer and lawmaker who lost to now ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich for the chief executive post in 2006. She's currently a member of the board overseeing regional transportation in the Chicago area.
Facing her are two newcomers to the state scene. Jim Dodge is an Orland Park village trustee and a member of the Metra transportation board in Chicago. William Kelly is a Chicago television producer who used to help lead the National Taxpayers United of Illinois.
Three Democrats are running to replace Dan Hynes, the three-term Democratic comptroller who's now running for governor.
Miller has served in the legislature since 2001. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Hoffman Estates grew up in Peoria and was state deputy treasurer. Wilmette lawyer Clint Krislov has pursued runs for U.S. Senate and attorney general before.
Why they're running
Many of the candidates see running for this office to help the state climb out of its major holes.
"I look at it as this is a great opportunity to try to fix these things now, and try to change some of the way we do business in the state of Illinois, not just internally but also in the view of the public," Miller said.
Krishnamoorthi said all Illinoisans were left scratching their heads after Blagojevich was arrested and removed from office, and sees the comptroller's office as a protector of taxpayers' money.
"We need what I would call an active comptroller," Krislov said. "People have used this office as a mere stepping stone in the past for other (offices)."
Topinka said she was frustrated with the way state government is being run recently.
"This is the only way I as a little person have to fight back," she said.
Dodge thinks he could be part of the solution to problems in Springfield.
"I think the state could use someone who is more of a career professional than a professional politician," he said.
Kelly said he loves Illinois and hates to see it fall on hard times.
"One party rule – the Democratic Party – with the combination of taxes and corruption have really run the state to the ground," he said.
What their main issues are
All the candidates make an issue of transparency for what money government is taking in and spending.
For the GOP, Dodge wants to make the comptroller's Web site more user friendly, citing the difficulty of trying to find out how much a company earns from the state.
Topinka would use the Internet to set up a single location for businesses to get information on state projects, instead of them having to check each individual state agency for projects. She argues that could help more small businesses and minority and women contractors develop relationships with state government.
Kelly would offer open access to his office for taxpayer watchdog groups. The state is still paying contracts from former Gov. Rod Blagojevich that should not have gone through, he added.
On the Democratic side, Krishnamoorthi advocates placing all state contracts online and allowing online bidding for state business to get more cost effective state contracts and better service from contractors.
"It allows more small businesses to participate and results in more efficient contracts," Krishnamoorthi said.
Krislov proposes hiring a forensic accountant to identify contracts with a high potential for irregularity. When problems with contracts are located now, it is too late, he said.
Miller wants to provide more certainty on state payments to vendors and contractors and would like to see more work done on making the state's budget easier to understand for residents.
"We could talk about cutting things, but I think the average citizen needs to understand if we cut X what is the effect on Y, because we are already talking about one pie," he said.
Matt Hopf can be reached at (217) 782-3095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A look at the candidates running for comptroller in the Feb. 2 primary election.
Rep. David Miller
Political experience: Current state representative
Issues: Access to care, cracking down on corruption, fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability
Hometown: Hoffman Estates
Occupation: Attorney, Former Illinois deputy treasurer
Political experience: None
Issues: Making government more transparent and accountable, cutting waste, fraud and abuse, protecting workers, investing in capital projects, promoting fiscal responsibility and job creation, reforming the funeral home and cemetery industries
Occupation: Founder and principal attorney of Krislov & Associates
Political experience: None
Issues: Pension reform, tax reform, system efficiencies, eliminating Illinois' culture of corruption
Judy Baar Topinka
Occupation: Former newspaper reporter
Political experience: Current member of the Regional Transportation Agency Board, former state treasurer, former state senator and state representative
Issues: Taxpayer advocacy and protection, transparency and accountability, renewed commitment to service
Hometown: Orland Park
Occupation: Vice president at The Nielsen Company
Political experience: Current Orland Park Village Trustee, current member of the Metra Board of Directors, former Orland Park Village Clerk, former Orland Township Republican committeeman
Issues: Keep tight control of money, real transparency on state expenditures, insure all duties of the office are met
Occupation: TV producer with Rev Productions, former executive director of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois
Political experience: none
Issues: Independent audit of Illinois government, work directly with government watchdogs, full disclosure of procurement process, full transparency, less government
Occupation: Financial services director with the Center for Economic Progress
Political experience: None
Issues: Fiscal responsibility, budget that works for all, better representation for the people of Illinois, income/property tax swap