Back in August, Gov. Pat Quinn came to terms with the fact that the campaign finance legislation lawmakers crafted in May was less "historic" than he'd initially touted. Instead of signing off on the half-hearted attempt, which reformers panned for failing ...
Back in August, Gov. Pat Quinn came to terms with the fact that the campaign finance legislation lawmakers crafted in May was less "historic" than he'd initially touted. Instead of signing off on the half-hearted attempt, which reformers panned for failing to curtail the ability of legislative leaders to dole out unlimited resources to their party's candidates among other problems, Quinn took out his veto pen and killed HB 7. That was a major victory for members of the good-government CHANGE Illinois! coalition, who for years have been lobbying for meaningful reforms to some of the nation's weakest campaign finance laws. Shortly after, they headed back to the table with legislative leaders to rework the bill in hopes of taking the "pay" out of Illinois' "pay-to-play" system. Negotiations on a new proposal were supposed to wrap up next week, when the fall veto session begins. However, it's been widely reported today that those negotiations have hit a wall.
While nothing is set in stone, it appears that progress has been made to strengthen some aspects of the initial bill. Individual contributions are likely to be capped per election year at $5,000; corporations, unions, and other groups would face a $10,000 limit; and political action committees (PACs) would max out their giving at $50,000. Contributions would also be capped by election cycle, not annually, which greatly benefitted incumbents certain to run for office again once their term ended. The sticking point, however, is over how much money political leadership committees and state parties can hand out during election cycles. CHANGE Illinois! wants to cap that figure at $100,000 -- including cash and in-kind donations -- per candidate based on both the primary and general election cycles. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) is trying to beat back any limitations by pushing through the proposal as is. In a perverse turn of events, CHANGE Illinois' co-chair George Ranney notes that strengthening caps on everyone but legislative and party leaders could actually play right into Madigan's hand. More from the Daily Herald:
"That would make those who control political parties and legislative caucuses stronger and everybody else weaker," Ranney said. "The money controlled by the leaders would be even more influential than it is now." The result, he added, intended or not, would be "more conformity, less independence and to discourage people from even thinking about running for office."
This year's budget negotiations offer a cautionary tale about the problems raised when legislative leaders hold too much leverage over their caucuses. While human service providers were closing their doors and child welfare programs were facing cuts, the Speaker was mum and rank-and-file members of the House followed his lead. That's not surprising considering how financially dependent legislators can be on their respective leaders during a tough election year, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's David Morrison tells us. "That puts all members in a vice," he adds pointing to the following analysis his organization pulled together (A more detailed look is available here (PDF):
In 2006 the average spending in the 107 non-targeted House races was $195,000, compared to $1.12 million in the nine targeted House races. The average spending in the 27 non-targeted Senate races was $327,000 in 2006. Average spending in the 10 targeted Senate races was nearly $1.3 million.
Many of the same editorial pages that helped put the kibosh on HB 7 a few months back are pushing back against the leaders tactics in round two. "It's as if state lawmakers were building a dam against the flood of campaign money but left a gaping hole smack-dab in the center," the Sun-Times editorial board writes, adding:
If lawmakers pass campaign finance reform this month that doesn't put a leash on the folks who benefit most from the current law, then they've passed no true reform at all.
The wild card in the reform redux is Quinn. Even after going out on a political limb and issuing a surprise veto against the initial bill, it remains to be seen how far he will go to see true reforms through. What is clear is that he's sitting the current round out, only noting in a statement that he "is committed to working with legislative leaders, experts and activists to reach an agreement on campaign-finance reform." Quinn won't be able to sit on the sidelines much longer.