There was a time when Lake County Democratic patronage employees kicked back 2 percent of their salaries every payday.

The officeholder kept 1 percent, and the other 1 percent went to the Democratic Central Committee.

That’s just how it was, with no questions asked.

It’s not that most underpaid employees could afford it. But it was understood that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they contributed.

The 2 Percent Club, as it was known, financed the re-election of local officials and helped finance statewide candidates, among other things.

The pay-to-work clubs are gone, but employees in many localities are still “giving.” Many employees now are given fundraising tickets and told to sell them or buy them.

Most do. Some don’t. And some local officials — like former Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin — have either gone to or are facing jail for jamming tickets on employees.

What used to be “voluntary” now is criminal in some cases.

Should elected officials not ask or allow workers to buy or sell fundraising tickets? Perhaps. Former Sheriff Stephen R. Stiglich did just that and banned his deputies from buying his fundraising tickets.

That brings us to another group of ticket buyers — the vendors who do business with municipal and county governments.

When those elected officials hold fundraisers, the vendors are expected to purchase tickets or perhaps lose out when the next round of vendor contracts are up for bid.

Tow truck operators are expected to buy the fundraising tickets of the county sheriff. It is a fine line between right and wrong and it is what has Sheriff John Buncich in a heap of trouble.

Is it wrong for towing operators to buy fundraising tickets? No. Is it wrong to expect them to buy an extraordinary amount? Sure, but what’s extraordinary?

It costs money — well into six figures for sheriff candidates — to run for any office.

Is it wrong to ask employees and vendors for money to help their campaigns? Not at all, the question simply is how much.

What is wrong is that the guidelines on fundraising tickets are blurred.

The politicians who make the laws would do themselves and others a favor if the laws were more definitive. Too many well-intentioned people are going to jail.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjamescolumns@gmail.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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