The Illinois General Assembly has been here before. Lawmakers are on the verge of making history by approving legislation aimed at limiting the amount of money flowing into political campaigns and reducing outside influence on the lawmaking process.
They approved a previous version of so-called campaign finance limits in House Bill 7, but in a rare event, the governor and all four legislative leaders agreed to veto the measure and start over.
The difference this time around is that reform advocates are on board. Unfortunately for Republicans, that leaves them without leverage in demanding stricter limits on the amount legislative leaders and statewide political parties can give to their chosen candidates.
Change Illinois, a broad coalition of 50 organizations of all stripes, believes Senate Bill 1466 represents “a significant step forward on the long road to reform,” said George Ranney, co-chair of Change Illinois and president and chief executive officer of Chicago Metropolis 2020.
Negotiations, particularly in the past week, have been “hard-fought, frank and full,” according to Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Change Illinois negotiator. The group wanted more. “I don’t think it is any secret that we had hoped to apply [limits on legislative leaders] in both the general and in the primary,” she said. “However, that was not the result of our negotiations.” She later added: “We tried as hard as we possibly could. We have been through some very thorough, very loud, very long negotiations. We could not bring them to this point.”
Capping contributions from political parties and legislative leaders in primary elections would still represent meaningful reform, according to Canary, because that’s where the election cycle starts, where independent newcomers have a chance to enter the process. And candidates would have to report more frequently the amount of money raised and spent. That could allow the public to better “follow the money,” or detect quid pro quo if large campaign donations flowed to politicians just as they were about to act on major legislation. The State Board of Elections also would gain new power to track, audit and penalize campaign finance violations.
Canary said the reform group intends to continue in the next legislative session to try to push for further reforms that include limits on political parties and legislative leaders in general elections.
Republicans disagreed that limiting the amounts legislative leaders and political parties in the primaries would be enough.
“Nothing changes — nothing — when it comes to money, except one thing: Everybody that’s not a leader is limited,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross. “The power, the money and control stays vested in four people,” he added, citing the top four legislative leaders of each political party.
The GOP Caucus cited numbers to suggest the limits on party leaders during primary elections are largely symbolic, given that parties tend to spend much less in primaries than they do in general elections. In the 2008 election cycle, for instance, the GOP said the State Republican Party gave $410,000 to candidates in the primary but $2.7 million in the general election. Democrats contributed $108,000 in the primary and $4.1 million in the general.
“Sadly, Change Illinois was either worn down or bought out, but their acceptance of the bill that gives even more power to the most powerful man in Illinois politics today is at the very least unfortunate,” Rep. Suzanne Bassi, a Palatine Republican, said during floor debate.
“There’s one person that can stop this now,” Cross said, citing Gov. Pat Quinn.
During the debate on SB 1466, the governor’s office said this in an e-mail: “We think it’s moving in a good direction.”
Approved by the House 66-49 late Thursday night, the bill is slated for Senate debate Friday, the last day of the legislature’s fall veto session. Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to Springfield until January.
If approved by the Senate and enacted by the governor, the new rules would:
- Require candidates to report contributions and expenditures four times a year, as opposed to the current twice a year. Donations of $1,000 or more would have to be reported within two business days throughout the entire year.
- Allow the Illinois State Board of Elections to conduct random audits, to investigate alleged violations of contribution limits or reporting requirements and to waive fees if the mistakes were found to be inadvertent.
- Form a task force to study the effectiveness of the implementation of the new law, as well as the public funding of political campaigns.
Per election cycle limits
Individuals can give up to:
- $5,000 to any candidate
- $10,000 to any political party or legislative caucus committee
- $10,000 to any political action committee
Businesses, unions and associations can give up to:
- $10,000 to any candidate
- $20,000 to any political party or legislative caucus committee
- $20,000 to any political action committee
Candidates can give up to:
- $50,000 to any candidate
- $50,000 to any political action committee
- Unlimited contributions to any political party or legislative caucus committee, except a $50,000 limit to a committee participating in primary elections
Political party and legislative caucus committees during primary elections:
The aggregate amount between state, county, township and city political committees cannot exceed:
- $200,000 to statewide candidates
- $125,000 to any state Senate candidate
- $75,000 to any state House candidate
- Between $50,000 - $125,000 to candidates for local and judicial offices
- $20,000 to political action committees
- Unlimited contributions to candidates during general elections