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Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010 04:50 am

GOP wants campaign limits

Bill would limit spending by legislative leaders

Illinois Republicans want to curb the power of legislative leaders, with a new bill that would limit campaign spending for leaders’ caucus committees and political parties.

The bill, HB 5008, aims to close the loophole in a campaign finance reform law approved by the governor last December. The law, which will not go into full effect until July 2011, puts no monetary limit on leaders and political parties during the general election.

While individuals, corporations and political action committees are restricted to $5,000, $10,000 and $50,000 donations respectively (in both the primary and the general elections) legislative leaders like House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are limited only during primary elections.

Limitless money means limitless power, says Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.

“That’s business as usual in Illinois, and it’s unacceptable,” Brady says. “The legislation we’re introducing today does what the bill signed into law last year should have done: impose reasonable caps across the board in the general election. This will be a big step in putting power back into the hands of individual voters.”

House Minority Leader Tom Cross says this particular restriction didn’t pass last year because Madigan and Cullerton did not want their power reduced. However, Cross says the bill will receive enough backing this time to overturn the leaders’ opinion.

“I think every member [of the General Assembly] will tell you that they’re for this,” he says. “The reform groups are for it. The public’s for it. It would be a shame to let two people stop a piece of legislation like this.”

It’s important to put these limits in place because it affects a General Assembly member’s allegiances, Cross says. He cited an example of a legislative race in Peoria where one candidate spent a million dollars.

When legislative leaders contribute large amounts to candidates, they can use those contributions as bargaining chips, he says.

“They can say to the person, ‘I got you elected, so you owe me,’” Cross says.

Kent Redfield, campaign finance expert and professor emeritus at University of Illinois at Springfield, said he doesn’t think the GOP will garner enough support to get the bill out of committee, let alone to make it a law.

The recent campaign finance laws are probably the most the General Assembly will address right now, Redfield says.

“It’s always difficult to get campaign finance changes,” Redfield says. “Whoever is governor is going to have to deal with legislation in relation to the budget. Bringing in revenue is going to be number one priority.”

Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, says he thinks the bill will pass, since it’s not very different from the new law.

“Everyone who voted to pass the bill to impose these limits in primary elections should have no problem voting to impose the exact same limits in general elections,” he says.

Campaign finance will probably not be brought to the table this session, nor the session after that, Redfield says. Despite fervent claims of support for contribution limits, the bill will not move, he says.

“There certainly are people on both sides of the aisle who believe in these limits,” Redfield says. “It’s a position-taking sort of thing, being on the ‘right’ side. But you have to believe that the primary action is going to be whether we can deal with the budget before November.”

Hope for campaign finance reform will not come until new, strong leadership is maintained, he says, perhaps after the elections in the fall, but certainly not before then.

“This is likely to get lost this spring,” Redfield says.

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.
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