Federal Politics

Published — June 27, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Contribution limits at risk in states thanks to Supreme Court

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right. M. Spencer Green/AP

Citizens United in the states

Introduction

A campaign finance arms race is in danger of breaking out in Illinois and at least three other states as lawmakers use the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision as justification for raising or even eliminating campaign contribution limits.

In Illinois, for example, the legislature voted last month to repeal limits on corporate contributions to candidates when super PACs or individuals spend more than $250,000 on a state race or $100,000 on a local race.

The move would balance spending between outside groups and candidates, say supporters. But it could also lead to far greater spending in elections, raising concerns about possible corruption, say critics.

Twenty-four states had bans in place against corporate or union spending on elections that were knocked down by Citizens United. Nineteen of the 24 states passed laws to require better disclosure.

The Illinois bill, introduced by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, expands an existing loophole in Illinois’ campaign finance law.

In May, the bill passed the state House 30-26 and the Senate 63-55 with no Republican support and awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature or veto. Quinn signed campaign finance legislation into law in 2009 that limited contributions to elected officials to $5,000 from an individual, $10,000 from a business or labor group and $50,000 from a regulated political action committee.

The same law also limited donations to outside spending groups. The law went into effect in January 2011. But the outside spending provision was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, who cited the Citizens United decision.

“I want to level the playing field as best I can manage,” Currie said. She says that her bill will help candidates who face opposition from wealthy super PACs.

With the current limits on candidates and unrestricted spending by super PACs, Currie said, “you’re basically turning over our democracy to the deepest pockets.”

That’s exactly what opponents, led by Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, fear the bill will do. He called the legislation a “direct about-face” on campaign finance reform and a reversal of any progress the state legislature had made in combating corruption.

Campaign watchdog groups Change! Illinois and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) are calling for a veto of the bill and instead are asking for increased penalties for coordinated activities between super PACs and candidates.

The law would give wealthy groups even more control — a super PAC donor would effectively have the power to create a no-contribution-limit election, according to David Morrison, the deputy director of the ICPR.

Morrison, testifying before a legislative committee, said that spending in races for the Illinois Supreme Court seats and for Chicago mayor had historically exceeded the threshold proposed in the bill.

Though Citizens United overturned limitations on corporate and/or union spending in 24 states it upheld the states’ power to set limits on direct campaign contributions to candidates as tools for fighting corruption.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that contributions to candidates, unlike uncoordinated independent expenditures, have a greater potential for creating corruption.

Prior to 2011, Illinois was among five states to allow unrestricted donations from corporations or individuals to candidates. Lawmakers placed these limits after a number of highly-publicized corruption cases, including the arrests of two Illinois governors.

In 2006, Gov. George Ryan was jailed on federal corruption charges. Three years later, Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted on charges of bribery. In one instance, FBI tapes revealed Blagojevich requesting $100,000 in the form of a campaign contribution from a horse racing track owner in exchange for huge industry subsidies.

The push in Illinois to increase direct contribution limits to offset the flow of outside corporate spending threatens to undo the regulations prompted by the scandals, say advocates for reform.

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday reversed a Montana law that banned outside spending by corporations. But state and local governments are free to set limits on donations made directly to candidates.

In March, Connecticut lawmakers considered a proposal eliminating certain limits on campaign fundraising. But the initiative did not make it through the state legislature.

Malloy, the first governor elected through a publicly financed campaign, said that the proposal would level the playing field for other publicly financed candidates that face wealthy super PACs.

In Los Angeles, a city ethics commission is considering a proposal to raise the 27-year-old campaign donation caps for local elections. City Council President Herb Wesson feared that without raising the contribution limits, city candidates could not compete against the unlimited spending from the super PACs.

According to the Los Angeles Times, he told a panel in December, “If it were me, I’d say let’s have no limits at all but just report [donations] faster.”

More changes could be on the way, according to Trey Grayson, the director of Harvard University’s Institute for Politics and former Kentucky secretary of state.

Super PAC spending in upcoming local elections, according to Grayson, could spur state legislators to raise or eliminate campaign contribution limits and increase disclosure laws. Rather than being proactive, lawmakers will likely react once they see how outside groups are affecting state and local races, he said.

Super PAC Liberty for All played a huge role in a Kentucky GOP primary in May, spending about twice as much as any candidate for the 4th District state House seat. With the help of super PAC funding, tea party candidate Thomas Massie beat six Republicans to win the nomination with 45 percent of the vote.

Now, state lawmakers are pushing to more than double the campaign contribution limits for individuals, from $1,000 to $2,500 per candidate.

According to a report from the National Conference on State Legislatures on the 2011-2012 election cycle, just four states have no limits on candidate contributions — Missouri, Oregon, Utah and Virginia.

Seven states — Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas — restrict contributions by unions and corporations, but allow unlimited contributions from individuals.

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.