The long wait for campaign finance reform in Illinois may soon be over. Last night, the reform coalition CHANGE Illinois agreed to support SB 1466, the bill introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) that would overhaul how politicians finance their ...
The long wait for campaign finance reform in Illinois may soon be over. Last night, the reform coalition CHANGE Illinois agreed to support SB 1466, the bill introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) that would overhaul how politicians finance their campaigns. The House quickly passed the measure -- 66 to 49 -- largely along party lines. And this afternoon, the Senate approved the bill by a 36-22 vote.
The bill leaves intact many of the useful provisions included in HB 7, the ethics measure that passed both chambers earlier this year but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn with the encouragement of all four legislative leaders. Individual contributions are to be capped at $5,000; corporations, unions, and other groups will face a $10,000 limit under the bill; and political action committees (PACs) will max out their giving at $50,000. Any public contribution of $1,000 or more will also require disclosure within two business days.
Reformers also successfully pushed for some other improvements. Contributions will be capped by election cycle, not annually as originally proposed (which would have greatly benefited incumbents certain to run for office again once their term ended). And a bipartisan task force will be created to analyze how the bill functions and to examine the feasibility of creating a voluntary public campaign finance system for all state offices.
Unfortunately, reformers were forced to make a major concession regarding the cap on contributions from political parties and legislative leaders. Ultimately, the Democratic leadership agreed to limit contributions from these PACs during the primary season (to $75,000 for House races, $125,000 for Senate, and $200,000 for statewide races) while lifting the restriction during the general election. Even though those figures were negotiated down this week, they still appear too high; the average 2008 race (both primary and general) cost House candidates just $191,370 and Senate candidates $349,413, meaning the legislative leaders would still play an extremely influential role in determining who emerges from primary fields. As a result, it remains unclear whether the final package will improve some of the long-standing structural problems with the election system or effectively curb the influence of the Four Tops.
The reform community is standing by their bitter compromise. "Setting limits in the primary will not remove all advantages of incumbency," says Anton Valukas, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, "but they should give more challengers a fighting chance and offer voters more choices."
They argue that SB 1466 is a legitimate first step to ensure elections in Illinois are fair and clean. We will see if the governor agrees.