Friday, May 29, 2009

Campaign finance limits one step closer

By Jamey Dunn, with Bethany Jaeger contributing

A bill intended to reform campaign finance in Illinois that passed through the Senate yesterday is expected to come up for a vote in the House today.

It appears to be a compromised version that could get enough votes to pass both chambers. However, Gov. Pat Quinn’s support of the bill went against the recommendations of the Illinois Reform Commission, which he created.

None of the major reform groups in the state support the bill. Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, described HB 7 as “phony reform” filled with loopholes.

Canary’s organization partnered with a large coalition called Change Illinois to advocate for reforms that mirror the federal system of campaign contribution limits: $2,400 limit on individuals, $5,000 limit on political committees, business and unions and a $30,000 limit on legislative leadership. The Illinois Reform Commission recommended the same limits.

Quinn said that enacting contribution caps for the first time in the state would be a historic change, even if they were more lenient than recommended by his commission. “This is a new world for Illinois,” he said shortly after he and House Speaker Michael Madigan testified in favor of the bill before a House committee this morning.

Madigan said that federal limits were too low and forced candidates to spend too much time trying to find multiple donors to contribute small amounts of money. He also said that they benefit incumbents who have an established list of donors that they could ask for cash.

Some aspects of the bill that Madigan outlined before the committee include:
  • Limited in-kind donations of advertisements, yard signs and people to knock on doors from businesses and labor unions supporting candidates.
  • Unlimited in-kind contributions for legislative leadership or statewide political parties.
  • Fines for violations of election rules would be increased. The Illinois State Board of Elections would be able to audit candidates and committees only if they missed two consecutive reporting deadlines.

Most of the new provisions would not take effect until January 2011, after the next general election. Madigan said that it was designed to keep the next election fair because candidates that started fundraising under the old rules would have an advantage over those who started under the new ones.

The Illinois Democratic Party also would be prohibited from offering support to a candidate in the primary immediately after the bill became law. Yesterday, Senate President John Cullerton said the Democratic Party voluntarily would abide by the new provisions before the law were enacted.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said she would like to see the same restriction applied to the Republican Party, but it was not included in the bill because Republicans were cut out of negotiations.

The provision actually could help Quinn because it would keep Madigan, chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois, from using the party to support his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is considering challenging Quinn in the Democratic primary for governor in 2010. When asked if he had compromised by accepting a less lenient cap on contributions in exchange for a ban on the Democratic Party's involvement in the primary, Quinn said, “Slate-making by the Democratic Party and using party resources in a primary has been a stock and trade for many decades.” He added: “I think this is a good step for reform and openness. It empowers everyday people who want to run for office. They don't have to run in machine politics. I think this is a very good reform.”

Speaker Madigan echoed supporters by calling it an imperfect bill but the result of compromise. “We don’t represent in this bill that there will be a complete shut down of money being spent for campaigns,” he said, “and we don’t represent that this bill is perfect. We don’t represent that it satisfies everybody. We do represent that it is a significant step forward for the state of Illinois.”

Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican, responded, “Some of us have a disagreement on how big of a step it is.”

Shortly after HB 7 advanced through committee, House Republicans tried to push a measure, HB 24,which would mirror federal limits. It’s similar to recommendations from the Illinois Reform Commission. However, the GOP was unable to get the support needed to have the bill called on the floor for a vote.

“We will have an ethics bill presented in this House later today that fails the people of the state of Illinois miserably,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross. Check back for updates on the bill.

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