A View From the Cheap Seats

September 7, 2009

Clout City

Filed under: Illinois,Politics — trzupek @ 8:04 pm


By Rich Trzupek

Clout; it’s a wonderful thing. This is a tale of clout, the kind of clout that you, I and the guy next door will never have. But if you have clout, especially in the state of Illinois, there is little that you can not get a compliant state legislature to do for you.

This story also involves the law, or – more to the point – those annoying, “fine print” details of the law that bureaucrats are constantly throwing in our face. You know the drill. If you don’t fill out line 18(a)(ii) of your tax return correctly, the IRS won’t give a damn if line 18(a)(ii) has no practical effect on the amount of tax you owe. You didn’t follow the law and, gosh but we’re sorry, you’ll have to pay a fine.

Here at the Examiner, we have always paid scrupulous attention to the law, as it applies to this fine publication. In one sense, that’s a matter of self-protection. Believe it or not, there are some people who would like to see the Examiner just shut up already, although I am happy to report that the Examiner has remarkably reappeared at the offices of Hanover Township, no doubt after some “misunderstanding” was resolved. Still, it’s best to stay within the strict confines of the law, since one never knows who is out to get one.

Moreover, compliance is philosophical matter. The minutia of the law is aggravating, and a constant source of complaint on these pages, but the fact is that America is a nation built on the rule of law. Nobody has come up with a better system, so – while we may grumble – we at the Examiner do our best to play by the rules.

Now, one of those rules involves what constitutes a “legal newspaper”. This is important, for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is that only a “legal newspapers” can accept legal notices; things like foreclosure notices, name changes, tax levy announcements and the like.

The Illinois General Assembly set forth the criteria of what constitutes a legal newspaper, many moons ago. There was thought behind this process. The General Assembly did not want any bozo with a mimeograph machine to publish a so-called newspaper, accept legal notices and circumvent the notification process with a publication that was nothing more than a sham to make money without actually providing the required general notification of legal actions.

Among these criteria was this: a legal newspaper must contain at least 130 square inches of printed material per page. Here, at the Examiner, we have always been aware of this requirement and have always diligently followed that guideline.

However, it recently came to our attention that some other publications did not. Some other publications, like the Chicago Sun Times, the Elgin Courier, the Kane County Chronicle, The Republican and the Bartlett Press downsized – presumably to save money – and no longer meet the 130 square inch criteria.

In the state of Illinois, most all legal notices are funneled through the Illinois Law Bulletin, which publishes its own notices and distributes, as required by law, the “common notice” in a local newspaper, or – to put a point on it – a local “legal” newspaper.

We contacted the Law Bulletin, since they sent their business – worth quite a bit of money – to the aforementioned “illegal newspapers” and many like them. Being involved in the legal profession and all, we figured that this might be something they would wish to know. Just a thought.

Oddly, after our initial phone call to make them aware of the issue, the Law Bulletin was thereafter unavailable, refusing to discuss the subject further. Even more strangely, we come to Senate Bill 291. This bill began its life as a technical change to the Condominium Property Act, but – and here’s where it really gets weird – it was modified on July 15, 2009 in a way that had nothing to do with condominiums. The change instead redefined what constitutes a legal newspaper in the state of Illinois, changing the printed space requirement to 100 inches. Go figure.

The bill sits on the Governor’s desk, awaiting approval. If signed, it will effectively serve as a stay of execution for newspapers like the Sun Times, Kane County Chronicle, Elgin Courier and Bartlett Press – newspapers that no one cares to read and who only continue to exist because their good buddy, the Law Bulletin, continues to feed them enough legal notice business to keep the presses running for another day.

Good deal, ain’t it? Publish a newspaper nobody wants and, when you are so strapped for cash that you can’t even meet the legal requirements for what a legal newspaper should be, go whining to your good buddies at the Law Bulletin and get them to change the playing field for you. Not that we, or I, can prove that is in fact what happened, but you don’t have to be a farmer to know that when you smell the aroma of bull droppings, it probably means that there are bull feces nearby.

Imagine if you or I tried the same thing. Imagine if, having failed to fill out line 18(a)(ii) of our tax return, we approached our legislator and said: “would it be a bother to make not filling out line 18(a)(ii) of a tax return okay?” We would be told to leave the room and not let the door bump us in the rear.

Ah, but if you have clout, that is a whole different story. If you have clout, you can whip  compliant state representatives into action at a moment’s notice. You can get what you want, when you want it. That’s the way Illinois works folks. Ain’t you proud?


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