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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 07:38 am

Campaign committees dodge money cap law

One way of getting around the state’s new campaign contribution caps is by forming a lot of different campaign committees. State law forbids people from forming more than one committee (except for independent expenditures, political parties and state legislative leaders), but nothing in the law prevents “friends” and allies from forming their own committees to receive and give money.

For example, House Republican Leader Tom Cross has his own political action committee, Citizens to Elect Tom Cross; his allowed “caucus” PAC, House Republican Leadership Committee; and also appears to control or at least influence four other committees: Illinois Crossroads PAC, Citizens to Change Illinois, Illinois House Victory Fund and Move Illinois Forward PAC.

Before we go any further, let me stress that none of this appears to be illegal. The House Republicans don’t deny they are doing this, with one official saying that they even include these campaign accounts in the presentations they give to large donors.

The point here is not to say that somebody is doing something wrong. It’s to show that if somebody wants to contribute money, they will find a way. State law caps the dollar amount that campaign committees can both give and receive, so multiple funds means contributors can give more money and the various funds can then, in turn, give out more cash.

The state’s contribution cap law is just not very good at what it’s supposed to do. In fact, the law makes it more difficult to track donors, because we have to look up the information using so many different angles. I happened to stumble upon these House Republican committees, for example, while casually looking up contributions made by Jack Roeser.
OK, now, on to the info.

The Illinois Crossroads PAC was formed this past January, but reported collecting no contributions until July. It has since received over $40,000 from Cross’ personal committee, plus two $10,000 contributions from Otto Engineering, a company owned by conservative activist and GOP fundraiser Jack Roeser. Walmart kicked in another $10,000, and energy magnate Gerald Forsythe contributed $5,000. Residual Based Finance Corp. contributed $2,500. The PAC has reported receiving $82,500 so far this cycle, and has contributed $70,000 to the Illinois Republican Party.

Citizens to Change Illinois was formed back in 2007, years before the caps were implemented. Its treasurer is a longtime aide to Leader Cross. The PAC had just $22,000 in the bank at the end of June, but then money started coming in the next month, totaling $67,500, including two $10,000 checks from Roeser’s company, $10,000 from Walmart, $5,000 from Gerald Forsythe and $2,500 from Residual Based Finance Corp. $60,000 of the money raised since June 30 has already been contributed, with $35,000 going to the state Republican Party and the rest going to House GOP candidates.

The Illinois House Victory Fund is controlled directly by Leader Cross. It was formed way back in 2004, but it had just a bit over $20,000 in the bank as of June 30. So far, it has received the usual two $10,000 checks from Roeser’s Otto Engineering and the $2,500 from Residual Based Finance Corp. All of the contributions it has made so far have gone to a handful of House Republican candidates.

Move Illinois Forward PAC, based in Oswego (which is in Cross’ district), was formed several years ago, but it had only $15,000 in the bank at the end of June. Since then, Otto has contributed $10,000, Forsythe contributed $5,000 and Residual has contributed $2,500. The PAC has so far contributed $25,000 to Cross’ House Republican Organization and $15,000 to targeted House GOP candidates.

Again, there doesn’t seem to be anything untoward about these committees or these contributions, at least not at this point. It’s just money finding a way to its intended target. You may hate it, but the truth is that’s just the way of the political world – and of the money world.

It’s also a pretty good demonstration of how a perhaps well-intentioned law doesn’t perform as promised.

But most of all, it is further proof that nobody, not even reformers, ought to be crowned as unquestioned experts in this business.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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