* A provision in state law lifting contribution caps when wealthy candidates start spending big money is being gamed by all four legislative leaders to allow them to raise however much they want. From the BGA…
In 2009, with yet another governor ensnared in scandal, Illinois’ Democratic legislative leaders authored a package of laws they promised would begin to reform Illinois’ culture of corruption.
One of the biggest items in the legislative package would finally establish statewide limits on campaign contributions, a measure Illinois was one of the last states to adopt.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsored the legislation, hailed it as a way to “help restore public confidence in Illinois government.” State Sen. Don Harmon, the Democratic sponsor in the Senate, praised it for enacting “historic contribution caps, real disclosure requirements and strict enforcement measures.”
But years later, Madigan and Harmon are using a controversial loophole written into the reform bill to raise millions of dollars above the limits the legislation set. Their Republican colleagues have also blown past the limits, as all four men have collected a combined $44 million more than the contribution limits allow, a Better Government Association examination shows.
Most of that money was doled out to support favored candidates in their respective chambers, records show, as part of a longstanding tactic to win loyalty and ensure their own status atop their party hierarchy.
“They completely gamed it,” said Cynthia Canary, former executive director of the organization now called Reform for Illinois, who helped negotiate the decade-old reform measure.
At the time, the law limited individual campaign contributions to $5,000 per politician, corporate and union contributions to $10,000 and contributions from political action committees to $50,000.
All four leaders are unapologetic about bypassing the limits as part of a political strategy they say is necessary for their parties to compete in elections.
The stark alternative would be to get rid of the provision. But then one candidate could outspend an opponent at will and candidates cannot be barred from spending as much of their own money as they want, per the US Supreme Court. There’s also the issue of independent expenditure committees, which can raise unlimited funds and could overwhelm candidates who couldn’t raise funds above a certain amount. Raising the threshold to, say, $500K instead of $100K, might be one way to do it, but it would be a simple matter for people like Madigan to just borrow the money from a bank and pay it back the next day with existing campaign funds.
* The Question: Any ideas for addressing this?
…Adding… Not a bad idea, but doesn’t include the IE component…
…Adding… As if on cue, Senate President Harmon just filed a $207K A-1, with three labor union contributions totaling $190K.
*** UPDATE *** Scott Kennedy on Twitter…
State contribution limits can either be iron clad but not fair or they can be fair but easy to circumvent, but like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle it is impossible to do both at the same time, given current US Supreme Court rulings.
This piece is well researched and does a good job of explaining the history, mechanics and politics of how this played out. But the context that is missing is the limitations on states’ ability to implement contribution limits that are both fair and effective.
Per US Supreme Court decisions you cannot place contribution limits on an individual who is willing to spend their own money and you cannot place contribution limits on any Superpac (IE) that is willing to independently raise and spend unlimited funds.
There is no law the State of Illinois could have passed that would have limited or prevented JB Pritzker from spending $175 million on his own campaign in 2018.
Given those limitations states can only place contribution limits on any other candidates/committees. Would it be fair to pass iron clad limits on a campaign that couldn’t self fund and faced such an opponent? Of course not.
These fairness provisions exist to lift the restrictions candidates might face in the event of such circumstances. However it does open the door for candidates to find a way to lift the contribution limits in their races.
And that’s why we are where we are. We can make changes to the various provisions to tweak this or that but the core trade off will remain the same: contribution limits can either be iron clad but not fair or they can be fair but easy to circumvent.
I think I’ll withdraw the question unless you insist otherwise.