As we mentioned in our Springfield round-up yesterday, State Rep. Will Burns, State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, and Citizen Action/Illinois rolled out their public financing bill during a press conference yesterday morning. Titled the Lincoln Act, the legislation would ...
As we mentioned in our Springfield round-up yesterday, State Rep. Will Burns, State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, and Citizen Action/Illinois rolled out their public financing bill during a press conference yesterday morning. Titled the Lincoln Act, the legislation would provide limited public funds and matching funds for executive, legislative, and judicial candidates that voluntarily enter the system and qualify. The matching funds would be distributed on a three-to-one basis for donations between $5 and $500.
Similar “clean elections” systems are currently being used in Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, New Mexico, Vermont, and Massachusetts, as well in as several cities -- and to great success. But the proposal here in Illinois raises a few questions: First, how much would public financing cost the taxpayers? And second, does a bill like this have a chance of passing when the leadership in Springfield has already expressed skepticism about a less drastic proposal to institute caps on campaign contributions?
After reading the draft legislation, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) director Cindi Canary explained to us that she likes the concept, but is reserving judgment until the authors determine how exactly the state would fund the system.
Given the fiscal crisis in Illinois -- which Democratic lawmakers cited yesterday in opposing the idea of a Senate special election -- Burns acknowledges that the cost will be an issue. He told us that Ralph Martire of the Center for Budget and Accountability has estimated that 100 percent participation in executive and legislative races would cost approximately $100 million in a gubernatorial election year (a seemingly conservative estimate given the cost in other states). While it’s highly unlikely that all candidates would enter the system initially, Burns says they are already exploring potential revenue sources, including an income tax check-off and increasing lobbyist registration fees.
The freshman representative is also convinced that amplifying the voice of everyday people is well worth the price. “We need to give folks who don’t want to rely on big donations an option or a safe harbor,” he says. “Public financing can do that.”
Canari emphasizes that while those specifics are hashed out, reformers in the General Assembly should focus their attention on other campaign finance reforms that have also been introduced. She singles out Rep. Harry Osterman’s HB 24 or Sen. Heather Stearns’ HB 1768, both of which would implement campaign contribution limits similar to those used on the federal level. “If you can run for president with that amount of money,” said Canary, “you can certainly run for the statehouse.”
Of course, whether these bills ever reach a full vote is subject to the whims of our legislative leaders, who have a great deal of interest in preserving the status quo. In an interview with the Daily Herald yesterday, House Republican Leader Tom Cross issued a weak criticism of contribution limits, joining skeptics like Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan:
On Thursday, House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego told the Quinn-appointed commission that he sees big problems with campaign finance limits.
“You’ve got to recognize people find – ways around the limit,” Cross said. “Recognize there are creative folks out there.”
Canary hopes Illinois residents put pressure on these legislative leaders to rethink their reservations. In this vein, ICPR launched Change Illinois last week, a coalition of “civic, business, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations” committed to seeing caps on campaign contributions in Illinois. The group is co-chaired by former DEA administrator Peter Bensinger, Woods Fund President Deborah Harrington, and Chicago Metropolis 2020 President and CEO George A. Ranney.
“We’ve had 30 years of [campaign finance] disclosure,” Canary told us. “We’ve actually have one of the better systems in the country. And it sure isn’t working.”
Also important -- and often overlooked -- is Sen. Kwame Raoul’s SB 222, which would creates a voluntary public financing system for Illinois Supreme Court and Appellate Court judicial elections if the Lincoln Act doesn’t move forward. As Raoul said at the press conference yesterday, “If there’s any branch of government that we certainly don’t want to see special interest in, it’s the judicial branch.” Canary agrees: “That is a branch of government under incredible threat from special interest contributions and I think that as we look to 2010, there’s a possibility of some real problems.”
We’re going to be carefully watching all of these proposals this legislative session and plan to update our readers on their progress, as well as any grassroots efforts to raise awareness about campaign finance reform. To learn more about the issue, be sure to check out our recent feature article.