Tuesday, August 11, 2009

HB 7 in Detail: Ballot Questions

HB 7, the campaign finance measure, has garnered a lot of media attention, none of it positive. (see, for instance, today's editorial in the Daily Herald). The bill was sent to Gov. Quinn on June 30, and he has until later this month to decide whether to sign it, veto it, recommend changes with an amendatory veto, or allow it to become law without his signature.

Our opposition to HB 7 is well known. Yes, we object to the provisions that would allow for astronomically high contributions. Where federal law allows contributions of $2,400 for people and $5,000 from political committees each election, HB 7 allows contributions of up to $10,000 from people and $90,000 from committees each calendar year. But that is far from the only flawed section of the bill. Over the next few days, we intend to outline our concerns with the non-limit parts of the bill. Some of these reflect ambiguous drafting. Some reflect intentional changes to the statute that will have adverse consequences. In the next few days, we'll focus on different parts of HB 7, other than the astronomical dollar amounts, in order to explain our concerns.

Start with how HB 7 treats ballot questions. HB 7 defines “single candidate committee” (on page 39 of the bill) as:

4 "Single-candidate committee" means a political
5 committee organized to support or oppose the election of a
6 single, specific candidate or public official or to support
7 or oppose one or more questions of public policy. (emphasis added)

The term "single candidate committee" is a misnomer, as the definition also encompasses committees formed to support or oppose ballot questions. It has been long established that governments can require financial disclosure as it relates to these questions of public policy, but cannot impose limits. At least since Buckley v Valeo, the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling on campaign finance, courts have held that there is no public interest in limiting giving to ballot question committees.

That's because the purpose of contribution limits is to address the fact or appearance of corruption and ballot questions are not "corruptible," or even sentient. Ballot questions do not exercise judgment or discretion. They pass or fail, and then it is up to other officials to implement them. Including ballot questions in the definition of a "single candidate committee" may be sloppy drafting or careless thinking but it is also certainly an invitation to a legal challenge.

In the next few days, we'll post concerns with other portions of the bill.

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