ICPR SuperPAC Resource Page

This page last updated July 6, 2012

Illinois joined most other states in the nation and the federal government in adopting campaign contribution limits in 2009. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2011, established limits on the amount of money campaign committees can accept from any one source.

Although ICPR for years pressed for the adoption of contribution limits, which are widely recognized as a tool to combat corruption in the public sector, the Illinois General Assembly took action only after the state’s biggest public corruption scandal, involving Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The system adopted into law in Senate Bill 1466/Public Act 96-0832 restricts contributions to candidates in an election cycle to: $5,000 from an individual; $10,000 from a business or labor group; and $50,000 from a political action committee.

But between the legislation’s passage and implementation, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a longstanding federal law prohibiting businesses from spending money in support or opposition to candidates. This 2010 decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, and other rulings by other federal courts, spawned the creation of political committees known as SuperPACs.

SuperPACs in Illinois

SuperPACs are political groups which, because the court concluded that they present zero risk of corruption, are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money from any source, from individuals to businesses to labor groups. SuperPACs do not face restrictions on the size of contributions they can take. The court ruled that they present zero risk of corruption because, they engage only in campaign activity that is not coordinated or directed with candidates. (Businesses and labor unions are still prevented from contributing directly to candidates’ political committees.)

The Citizens United decision immediately affected only federal campaign finance law, but spurred challenges in other states that had similar campaign finance laws in place.

Illinois’ law was challenged on Feb. 14, 2012 by Personal PAC, which sued the State Board of Elections in federal court. The suit, Personal PAC v McGuffage, sought the removal of contribution limits on so-called “independent expenditure” committees, which do not coordinate expenditures with candidates.

The lawsuit argued that since the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down prohibitions on corporate and union spending that is uncoordinated with candidates, in Citizens United, Illinois’ law, which included contribution limits on these types of committees, should also be struck down. In addition, the suit sought to eliminate another restriction in Illinois’ law that prohibited entities from forming more than one political committee – a provision intended to deter the multiplication of committees to evade contribution limits.

ICPR filed an amicus curiae brief (or “friend of the court” brief) defending the law. In it, ICPR explained that Illinois’ unique political history, which includes numerous public corruption scandals with campaign finance components, merited upholding the state’s caps on contributions to independent expenditure committees. “Illinois’ long, sordid history of political corruption – perhaps worse than that of other state – requires some modest restriction on special interest fundraising for expenditures to benefit particular candidates,” ICPR’s amicus brief explained.

ICPR’s opposition was echoed by the Attorney General’s Office, which defended the state’s law.

Ruling Allows SuperPACs in Illinois

However, in a ruling issued March 13, 2012, a federal judge struck down the contribution limits to such independent expenditure political committees. Judge Marvin Aspen’s ruling cited Citizens United and a 2011 7th Circuit decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Barland.

As a result of the decision in Personal Pac v. McGuffage, entities are now free to form state Super PACs. These political committees can raise money without regard to contribution limits, unlike other political committees, on the condition that they never coordinate expenditures with candidates.

ICPR is monitoring the formation, fundraising and expenditures of these committees.

Please check back here for more information.

For more information, contact Whitney Woodward at 312-335-1767 or whitney@ilcampaign.org