HB 7 in Detail: Effective Date

All new laws take effect eventually. Many laws take effect within a few weeks of passage; in some instances, they'll take effect a few months after passage. But HB 7 isn't like most other bills. The majority of HB 7 would not take effect until January 1, 2011, more than 19 months after the House and Senate approved it.

There can be valid reasons for delaying implementation, but contribution limits should not be delayed that long. HB 7 deals with the rules of campaign finance, and changing those rules in such a fundamental way in the middle of a campaign can cause great confusion. When New Mexico adopted contribution limits in March of this year, their legislature set the effective date at November 3, 2010. That's a long way off, but it's the day after the 2010 General Election, so it makes sense -- as soon as the next election cycle is over, the rules change. And that's one of the two effective dates that we kicked around in regard to HB 24 (the other being, "immediately").

There are at least two significant problems with January 1, 2011 as a start date. First, it gives politicians 7 weeks after the 2010 General Election to get ready. One of ICPR's early legislative wins was the ban on taking campaign funds for personal use, which became law in 1998. In order to win approval of the law, we had to agree to a kind of "grandfather clause" that exempted funds raised before the effective date of the law. Wouldn't you know it, one legislator's campaign fund "borrowed" $100K on the day before the effective date. They paid it back the day after, but on the day the law took effect, they had an extra $100K in their fund, money they will be able to claim for personal use when they retire. (On the upside, there was only one legislator who was this crafty). Setting the effective date for contribution limits 7 weeks after the election will likewise allow for more last minute shenanigans, as contributors evaluate incumbents and decide which should get a final outsized donation before the law takes effect.

The other problem with the effective date is that it occurs just 7 weeks prior to the 2011 municipal elections. Candidate petitions will be due in December, objections will be decided and the ballot fixed and then the campaign finance rules will change. Candidates can take huge sums in December, 2010, but after January 1st anyone who didn't get their fundraising ramped up in time will have to comply with new rules. This scenario will play out in localities all over Illinois, including the City of Chicago.

There are serious policy reasons why the date should be moved up to November 3, 2010.

While we're on the subject of dates in the bill, one more bears notice. HB 7 creates a study commission to examine the question of public financing for judicial campaigns. A bill to create public financing for judicial elections has passed the Senate with bi-partisan majorities in each of the last three sessions. (Then-Sen. Barack Obama was the chief sponsor the first time it passed.) But House Speaker Michael Madigan never called the bill for a vote in the House. So it would seem the key issue for a study commission is to figure out what objections the House has to the bill. The study commission is supposed to report back on January 1, 2012 -- two and a half years from now. Will it really take that long to figure out what changes are needed to satisfy the House?