Buzzer Beaters: Large Donations in the Weeks Before Limits Took Effect

In the days leading up to the effective date of the campaign contribution limits in Illinois, there was a flurry of large contributions that would have been over the limits on Jan. 1.

ICPR found almost $13 million in donations to political committees that were made in the final days before limits took effect. These donations could not have been made in January. But the committees that received this money can spend the money now, and into the future.

With the start of the year, Illinois joined with nearly all other states in setting limits on campaign contributions.

The law creating these limits was signed into law in December 2009, and political committees and contributors alike had just over one year to prepare. Some prepared by lining up large donations in the final weeks before limits would have made those donations illegal.

Reformers anticipated that some donors would seek to beat the clock in this way. We saw similar rushes of activity in the weeks before the ban on personal use of campaign funds took effect in 1998, and, of course, Rod Blagojevich tried to rake in as much as he could from state contractors before the Pay-to Play ban took effect at the end of 2008.

So let’s acknowledge these donations for what they are: the final bleats of a system that tolerated outsized transfers of wealth from interest groups to politicians.

Here is a list of the political committees that reported the largest donations after the 2010 General:

1. Chicago for Rahm Emanuel Raised $3.2 million in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

2.Stand for Children Illinois. Raised $2.7 million in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

3. Illinois Hospital Association PAC. Raised $860,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

4. For a Better Chicago PAC. Raised $840,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011. (This assumes that the one donor, a not-for-profit also named For a Better Chicago, is not in fact a political committee itself. If For a Better Chicago NfP is really a committee, then the net overage would be $800,000)

5. Illinois State Medical Society PAC. Raised $760,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

6. Personal PAC. Raised $605,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

7*. Pat Quinn Committees. Raised $494,500 in increments that would be illegal in 2011. Taxpayers for Quinn reported $281,900 while Quinn/Simon reported $212,600.

8*. Citizens for Patricia Van Pelt Watkins. Raised $349,900 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

9*. Gery Chico for Mayor. Raised $251,400 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

10*. Cable Television and Communication Assn.. Raised $240,000 in increments that would be illegal in 2011.

* Update - in a paper report filed a week after the deadline, former guberntorial candidate Dan Proft listed a single $500,000 donation from Richard Uihlein. That donation would put Proft's committee at #7 on this list, raising $495K in increments that would be illegal in 2011.