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Groups begin spending big in Illinois

Monday, Oct 29, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Independent expenditures in state legislative races are closing in on the $2 million mark since July 1st, with most of that spending coming in the month of October, Illinois State Board of Elections records show.

Last March, a federal judge struck down Illinois’ law capping contributions to so-called state super PACs. Since then, according to the State Board of Elections’ website, $1.8 million has been spent by groups on Illinois campaigns, and as of late last week, $1.3 million of that has been spent in the month of October alone.

Super PAC money is expected to increase exponentially in 2014, when gubernatorial and other statewide candidates are up for bid. So far, just eleven independent expenditure committees have been formed, but more will surely be formed after this cycle ends.

Some of the top spenders have familiar names. The pro-choice Personal PAC, the Jobs PAC, formed by the Illinois Manufacturers Association, and the National Association of Realtors have all spent big bucks this month backing or opposing various candidates.

A new super PAC called Liberty Principles PAC, formed by Republican activist Dan Proft, has reported spending $78K this past week, with more on the way. The group’s ads are targeting Senate and House candidates in the same districts. So, for instance, they’re running a TV ad blasting Sen. Mike Jacobs and Rep. Pat Verschoore (D-Milan) at the same time, as well as Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Democratic Senate candidate Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).

Personal PAC has so far been one of the biggest players in the Illinois super PAC arms race. Its parent organization is a pro-choice behemoth which has long wielded major influence in Illinois politics. The group plays hardball. If a candidate refuses to fill out its questionnaire, which often happens with moderates in the middle or those who lean pro-life, Personal PAC labels the candidate pro-life without exception. And then the direct mail and the TV ads start to fly. It’s never a pretty sight, unless you like this sort of thing.

As of late last week, Personal PAC has reported spending over $330,000 on independent expenditures. But they have plenty more cash available. The group ended the third quarter with almost $290,000 in the bank. Since the end of September, the group has raised about $400,000, half of that from two people.

According to the State Board of Elections’ website, Personal PAC is the only super PAC which has spent more than $100,000 on a single race. Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law this year which removes all contribution caps once a super PAC crosses that $100,000 threshold. So far, only Personal PAC has done so with its $159K against Republican state Senate candidate Joe Neal of northern Lake County.

In comparison, the only “pro-life” super PAC registered with the state has spent just $1,500 so far this month. The Pro-Life Victory Committee is backing a Republican state Senate candidate in the Quad Cities area. When it comes to the abortion issue, nobody has ever come close to Personal PAC’s dominance.

The Jobs PAC, formed by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, has outspent Personal PAC so far, dumping over $400,000 into races just this month, according to State Board of Elections records. About half of that spending occurred just last week, with big bucks for and against five state Senate candidates. Most of the candidates the group is backing are Republicans, but they’ve spent a considerable amount of money to help state Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline).

The National Association of Realtors has a super PAC which has spent almost $200,000 this month. The group is focusing on four state legislative races, with its biggest spending, $50,000, coming on behalf of state Rep. Skip Saviano (R-Elmwood Park). Saviano is in the fight of his political life right now against a heavily funded Democratic opponent.

Super PACs are a relatively new phenomenon in Illinois politics. They haven’t yet dominated campaigns like they’re doing at the federal level, where their spending is dwarfing congressional candidates’ own cash. But like with any new political invention, you can bet that this cash will increase in the coming years. A few years ago, hardly anyone received robocalls. Now, everybody in a contested district is being flooded with them. It’s the way of the beast.

The one difference between state and federal law is that state law kills off the caps as soon as somebody spends $100,000. That law allows people to defend themselves. As this roundup of independent expenditures from Illinois Review shows, federal candidates ain’t so lucky. Independent expenditures so far have topped $30 million

* 17th - Schilling vs Bustos – $7.3 million
* 11th - Biggert vs Foster – $5.5 million
* 13th - Davis vs Gill – $5 million
* 12th - Plummer vs Enyart – $5 million
* 10th - Dold vs. Schneider – $4.4 million
* 8th - Walsh vs Duckworth – $3.5 million

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

9 Comments
  1. - The Captain - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 10:14 am:

    The BCRA (McCain-Feingold) originally allowed for higher contribution caps in the event of large self funding candidates but it was later struck down by the courts. The higher caps were in place in the 2004 primary however and Obama was able to take up to $12,000/donor (see Jordan, Michael) because Blair Hull put so much of his own money into the race.


  2. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 10:34 am:

    ===it was later struck down by the courts===

    It was a different sort of cap. Illinois’ kills caps for everyone once the threshold is hit. The federal law just killed caps for opponents.


  3. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 10:34 am:

    Also, TC, you won last week’s caption contest. Please send me an email.


  4. - wordslinger - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 10:37 am:

    I’m guessing the unsolicited fundraising efforts by Walsh, Akin and Mourdock have been very kind to Personal PAC.


  5. - Will Caskey - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 10:48 am:

    I like how IL-17 is he most ultra important race in the state. The great legislative juggernaut of bobby schilling must hold!


  6. - CircularFiringSquad - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 12:11 pm:

    Any thought of asking Proft why he needed to change the name of his little club before doling out his cash?


  7. - train111 - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 12:32 pm:

    The bad thing in the State Legislative Races is that the money coming in is starting to become untraceable.
    All the money coming into the Republican State Leadership Committee-Il PAC is listed as coming from an organization with the same name in DC. Where did it originally come from? Who knows.
    Likewise the GOPAC Illinois Legislative Fund’s dough also all came from GOPAC Inc in DC. Again no way of knowing where the money originated.
    Proft indeed changed the name of Liberty Principles PAC from Liberty Principles PAC Inc. Was it to hide tracability? Who knows. You can find the donors to the first online relatively easy, so I don’t see a reason for the change.
    It seems like I’m picking on the GOP, but I’m not. I guess we could do the same for the unions and labor groups contributing to the Dems. They’re not as blatantly obvious as the GOP ones either.

    train111


  8. - Lil Enchilada - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 12:45 pm:

    I got a “newspaper” in the mail called “The Illinois Democrat”. I wondered why right off the bat it was slamming Cheri Bustos when it was a Democrat piece. Looking through page after page I saw it was an extended advertisement for Bobby Schilling. My poor, old mother-in-law said the Democrats sent her a paper that told her to vote for Schilling. Feels kind of dirty and extremely misleading. Couldn’t help but wonder what that cost.


  9. - CircularFiringSquad - Monday, Oct 29, 12 @ 12:51 pm:

    Mr/Ms Train111
    You can pick on the unions, but I think we know their cash comes from dues and donations the Proft PAC is just getting cash from some corporate til — you buy some staples and some wing nut doles out some cash to a campaign. Some government procurement dude buys a switch and the whackmasterjack hits the x key on the register, grabs some cash for their favorites. We doubt the buyers ever thought they were giving to GOP campaigns.
    Thus the difference


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