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*** UPDATED x1 *** Question of the day

Friday, Aug 7, 2020

* 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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - 47th Ward - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 2:28 pm:

    Overturn Citizens United?

    Until then, full and rapid disclosure. As you point out Rich, changing the caps just forces the water to find an easier path. The money will still flow, and IEC are worse than leaders gaming the cap rule.

  2. - RNUG - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 2:57 pm:

    If you can’t overturn Citizens, then term limits to stop people from building and controlling fundraising.

  3. - Froganon - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:08 pm:

    Require full disclosure of the donors to all entities supporting candidates/referenda. No dark money funds. Require media outlets licensed by the Federal government and operating on public airwaves/bandwidths to provide prime time slots to all candidates in regional, statewide and national elections for two months before primaries and elections. Slots to be awarded via algorithms insuring equal access to the best spots. Candidates pay for their own commercials and a nominal fee covering actual expenses to broadcast their commercials. The airwaves and bandwidths are publicly owned, make them serve us. Require candidates to spend 50% of their commercial time explaining what they want to do in office and their qualifications to hold office.

  4. - Derek Smalls - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:10 pm:

    Maximum disclosure possible, quickest disclosure possible and an aggressive compliance system not hindered by “designed to deadlock” structures like the Illinois State Board of Elections. I like the idea of caps, but the practical reality is what 47th Ward says, cash will just find an easier path.

  5. - lake county democrat - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:22 pm:

    Tiny, fanciful suggestion (I’m really at a loss for major proposals - I like the idea of disclosure but I’m dubious of its effectiveness):

    Change the disclaimers for political ads to something like “The following is a paid political announcement. Views are not necessarily those of the actors reading a script.”

  6. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:22 pm:

    I’ve always went about this as…

    No caps, limits, no way of curtailing.

    However, the dark money or hidden ways to drop money, that needs to disappear.

    After $1, every $1.01 must be directly linked and reported to “the whom”

    If I give $13 million, I can give it, but no shell/PAC/phony filter to hide those monies.

    If Griffin wants to be against something, as an example, give $50 million, but it will be direct as Griffin will be required to file it as such.

  7. - DuPage Saint - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:23 pm:

    Allow only registered voters to make political contributions and then only to candidates that the voter can vote for. If I am in congressional 6 I should only be allowed to contribute to candidates in 6. So I could contribute to any Illinois U as Senate or governor or president candidates and then down the line in my district and since only registered voters stops PAC unions and other dark money. Also publish who gave what and when weekly

  8. - Powdered Whig - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:35 pm:

    === Allow only registered voters to make political contributions and then only to candidates that the voter can vote for. ===

    That would violate the First Amendment

  9. - low level - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:37 pm:

    Its ridiculous to try to regulate this, especially given the SCOTUS decision.

    No limits, disclose everything.

  10. - JoanP - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:47 pm:

    @ DuPage Saint -

    Aside from the First Amendment issue - how about the national Congressional Campaign committees run by both parties?

    And what about people who don’t live in a district, but work there, or own property there, or would otherwise be impacted by the election?

    = publish who gave what and when weekly =

    Well, I suppose that might be one way to finance local newspapers.

  11. - Precinct Captain - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 3:57 pm:

    Tax the self funders dollar for dollar

  12. - revvedup - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 4:06 pm:

    Do away with the legal fiction of corporations as being “persons”, and Citizen’s United would be void ab inito, because the corporation would have no right to spend corporate money in campaigns. That might be another route to the same goal, although likely as difficult.

  13. - Smh(my real initials) - Friday, Aug 7, 20 @ 4:27 pm:


    Every time I see someone say term limits are the answer, my response is Phil Rock. You loose the good ones, too.

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