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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 07:08 am

Illinois’ escalating super PAC arms race

Independent expenditures in state legislative races are closing in on the $2 million mark since July 1, with most of that spending coming in the month of October, Illinois State Board of Elections records show.

Last March, a federal judge struck down Illinois’ law capping contributions to so-called state super PACs. Since then, according to the State Board of Elections’ website, $1.8 million has been spent by groups on Illinois campaigns, and as of late last week, $1.3 million of that has been spent in the month of October alone.

Super PAC money is expected to increase exponentially in 2014, when gubernatorial and other statewide candidates are up for bid. So far, just eleven independent expenditure committees have been formed, but more will surely be formed after this cycle ends.

Some of the top spenders have familiar names. The pro-choice Personal PAC, the Jobs PAC, formed by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, and the National Association of Realtors have all spent big bucks this month backing or opposing various candidates.

A new super PAC called Liberty Principles PAC, formed by Republican activist Dan Proft, has reported spending $78,000 this past week, with more on the way. The group’s ads are targeting Senate and House candidates in the same districts. So, for instance, they’re running a TV ad blasting Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, and Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, at the same time, as well as Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and Democratic Senate candidate Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield.

Personal PAC has so far been one of the biggest players in the Illinois super PAC arms race. Its parent organization is a pro-choice behemoth which has long wielded major influence in Illinois politics. The group plays hardball. If a candidate refuses to fill out its questionnaire, which often happens with moderates in the middle or those who lean pro-life, Personal PAC labels the candidate pro-life without exception. And then the direct mail and the TV ads start to fly. It’s never a pretty sight, unless you like this sort of thing.

As of late last week, Personal PAC has reported spending over $330,000 on independent expenditures. But they have plenty more cash available. The group ended the third quarter with almost $290,000 in the bank. Since the end of September, the group has raised about $400,000, half of that from two people.

According to the State Board of Elections’ website, Personal PAC is the only super PAC which has spent more than $100,000 on a single race. Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law this year which removes all contribution caps once a super PAC crosses that $100,000 threshold. So far, only Personal PAC has done so with its $159,000 against Republican state Senate candidate Joe Neal of northern Lake County.

In comparison, the only “pro-life” super PAC registered with the state has spent just $1,500 so far this month. The Pro-Life Victory Committee is backing a Republican state Senate candidate in the Quad Cities area. When it comes to the abortion issue, nobody has ever come close to Personal PAC’s dominance.

The Jobs PAC, formed by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, has outspent Personal PAC so far, dumping over $400,000 into races just this month, according to State Board of Elections records. About half of that spending occurred just last week, with big bucks for and against five state Senate candidates. Most of the candidates the group is backing are Republicans, but they’ve spent a considerable amount of money to help state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline.

The National Association of Realtors has a super PAC which has spent almost $200,000 this month. The group is focusing on four state legislative races, with its biggest spending, $50,000, coming on behalf of state Rep. Skip Saviano, R-Elmwood Park. Saviano is in the fight of his political life right now against a heavily funded Democratic opponent.

Super PACs are a relatively new phenomenon in Illinois politics. They haven’t yet dominated campaigns like they’re doing at the federal level, where their spending is dwarfing congressional candidates’ own cash. But like with any new political invention, you can bet that this cash will increase in the coming years. A few years ago, hardly anyone received robocalls. Now, everybody in a contested district is being flooded with them. It’s the way of the beast.

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

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