CHANGE Illinois! Says Agreement to Limit Campaign Contributions Puts Illinois on the Road to Reform

Remains Committed to Additional Reforms

The CHANGE Illinois! coalition has reached agreement with Governor Quinn, Senate President Cullerton and Speaker Madigan on legislation that would establish limits on campaign contributions by political parties, legislative leaders, individuals, corporations, unions, and PACs.

For the first time in the history of Illinois – one of only five states where unlimited campaign contributions are legal – there would be limitations on the amount of money contributed to political campaigns.

Other important elements of the agreement will create a framework for regulation of the finance system and enforcement of a new limits law. They include:
• Swift disclosure to the public of every contribution of $1,000 or more;

• Quarterly (now just twice a year) reports from committees detailing the source of every contribution of more than $150 and listing how funds were spent in the quarter;

• Audits of the finances of political committees selected at random by the State Board of Elections to check compliance with state laws; and

• Creation of a searchable database of penalties assessed by the State Board of Elections in response to violations of the campaign disclosure and limitation laws.

In addition, a bi-partisan task force, including public members, will be created to analyze the new limits, make recommendations for improvements, and examine the feasibility of creating a voluntary public campaign finance system for all state offices, including the judiciary.

“Setting limits on contributions to political campaigns, will be an important step in bringing meaningful reform to Illinois,” said George Ranney, a co-chair of CHANGE Illinois! and President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020. “As important as this first step is, it is only that – one step in a long road to the reform of this state’s political culture. We have much more work to do and loopholes to be closed.”

“After scandals in Washington and in state capitols and city halls around the nation, the federal government and most other states passed laws limiting the role of campaign contributions during the past couple of decades,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “Finally, Illinois is about to signal to the rest of the nation that we’re ready to join them and impose limits on all contributions coming into the system.”

CHANGE Illinois! is a coalition of civic, business, labor, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations, which represents more than 2 million members advocating for Illinois to join the federal government and virtually every other state in the nation by enacting campaign finance limits.

The coalition led a public education campaign that generated support for strong campaign finance reform and resulted in Gov. Quinn’s veto of a badly flawed campaign finance bill passed earlier this year by the General Assembly. Members of the coalition promised to work with the Governor and legislative leaders to produce a bill with meaningful limits and effective enforcement tools.

Following that veto, the coalition worked with the Governor and legislative leaders to design a reform program that would be comparable to systems in use elsewhere in the nation.

Under terms of the agreement, individuals will not be able to contribute more than $5,000 to any candidate in an election cycle; businesses, labor unions and associations will have $10,000 limits on contributions to candidates; and political action committees will be limited to no more than $50,000 per candidate.

One major stumbling block in negotiations centered on the ability of political parties and caucus leaders to transfer unlimited amounts of money from their funds to political candidates. The final agreement does include limits on the amounts of money that can be transferred to candidates during primary elections. Party leaders will no longer be able to control local primary election campaigns by pouring unlimited amounts of money into the campaigns of favored candidates.

“There was no agreement reached on transfers from leaders to candidates during general election campaigns, but CHANGE Illinois! will continue to advocate for those limits in the future,” Ranney said.

“Because parties and legislative leaders have been able to contribute unlimited amounts of money in primary campaigns, few people have been willing to run for
office without the backing of party leaders,” said Anton Valukas, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and a member of CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “As long as they have the support of their leaders, many state legislators get a free ride to reelection. Setting limits in the primary will not remove all advantages of incumbency, but they should give more challengers a fighting chance and offer voters more choices.”

The agreement will create limits on transfers from party leaders to all candidates for all state and local offices in primary elections. Each limit will be an aggregate limit, meaning the total of any combination of party and leader committees in a primary cannot exceed the limit. The limits on transfers are $200,000 for statewide candidates, $125,000 to Senate candidates, $75,000 for House candidates, and a range of limits from $50,000 to $125,000 for candidates running for every other office – from local offices to seats on the Illinois Supreme Court.

"Placing limits on campaign contributions and their influence is an important first step in reminding our elected officials that the citizens and voters of Illinois have special interests too," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois Senior State Director. "This legislation promises to be a significant first step in addressing the lack of public confidence in the capability of our elected officials to address the issues concerning individuals and their families during these difficult economic times."

“This reform measure, while imperfect, is a long time overdue and an essential first step toward a cleaner, fairer, more representative election system,” said Dawn Clark Netsch, a former legislator, statewide officeholder, long-time advocate of limits and a member of CHANGE Illinois! coalition.