Friday, May 29, 2009



Over the objections of reform advocates throughout the state, the Illinois Senate on Thursday approved a bill (HOUSE BILL 7) to establish contribution limits but with so many loopholes that the legislation is "limits" in name only.

Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), issued the following statement:

“The disappointing Senate action should not be rubberstamped by the House,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). “This phony reform should be blocked, and reform-minded legislators should insist on filling the loopholes created by the Senate.”

ICPR and the CHANGE Illinois! coalition have advocated real reform modeled after the federal system of campaign limits -- $2,400 limit on individual contributions, $5,000 limit on PAC, business and union contributions and a $30,000 limit on contribution from legislative leadership PACs to legislative candidates.


NO LIMIT ON IN-KIND CONTRIBUTIONS: Not only are the dollar amounts of the limits high but there are no limits on "in-kind" contributions from one candidate's committee to another. That means legislative leaders could use campaign funds to hire staff, pay for commercials and send direct mail on behalf of candidates. None of those would be covered by a contribution limit. It has the potential to exempt millions of dollars from the limits.

ANNUAL (CALENDAR YEAR) vs. ELECTION CYCLE LIMITS: Because the federal system uses election cycles of primary and general elections, officeholders and challengers are treated the same. But the Senate bill would set limits -- $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a PAC, business or union -- on a calendar year basis. That protects incumbents. For example, using the federal system, a governor and challenger could each get no more than two maximum contributions in a four-year period. But under the calendar year system, sitting governors could collect the maximum level in each of the governor's four years in office. Because challengers usually don't gear up for campaigning and fundraising until about two years before the election, a challenger could collect the limit from a contributor only twice before the general election. That's a potential 2-to-1 advantage for an incumbent.

TRANSFERS FROM LEADERS' (AND OTHERS') COMMITTEES: Any candidate for any office in Illinois could transfer up to $90,000 in cash to another candidate's committee. There are so many potential transfers of funds from committee to committee that it would be easy for legislative leaders to maneuver millions of dollars to targeted candidates. The end result would be the same as exists today.

ENFORCEMENT: Enforcement of campaign finance laws would remain extremely weak in Illinois. We had recommended the State Board of Elections be directed to make random audits of campaign committees to determine whether they were disclosing the contributions and expenditures required by law. The Senate bill would only give the State Board of Elections the ability to order an audit when a committee failed to file a quarterly report two times in a calendar year.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Real, Meaningful Contribution Limits

Newspapers around the state have reviewed the Senate Democrats' campaign reform proposals, and found nothing to like. Setting caps that are as much as 6 times what the federal limits are and allowing unfettered transfers from parties and caucuses is not reform. But don't take it from us. The Daily Herald calls their ideas "practically meaningless." The Sun-Times calls it a "ruse." The Peoria Journal Star says it's "a deal breaker." And the Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus say "a better proposal is HB 24/SB 1768." Read for youself:

The Daily Herald (May 22, 2009) -- "The anti-corruption groups support donation limits per election cycle of $2,400 from individuals. That means that in a four-year Senate term, someone could give a Senate candidate a total of $4,800 for the primary and general elections. But the Senate plan just unveiled would allow for $10,000 donations every calendar year, or a total of $40,000 to a candidate in a four-year term. Even more alarming, Harmon's plan, so far, has no limit whatsoever on the contributions legislative leaders can make to candidates. That key lack of a limit on leadership contributions makes the Senate plan to cap campaign contributions practically meaningless."

The Peoria Journal Star (May 22, 2009) -- "But ultimately any progress here is undone with no ceilings being imposed on the largesse of legislative leaders, and might be a step backward. If you believe as we do that the speaker of the House and the Senate president have too much muscle now, this arguably would give them more, making rank-and-file members even more dependent on them while tying up the wallets of others. It's tantamount to no reform at all; as such, a deal-breaker."

The Moline Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus (May 21, 2009) -- "To discourage corruption and loosen the four tops" stranglehold, we urge leadership to call for and lawmakers to demand new limits on government corruption with a 'yes' vote on HB24 and SB1768."

The Chicago Sun-Times (May 22, 2009) -- "Madigan, Cullerton, et al, have decided they might be willing to enact campaign contribution limits on individuals, businesses and unions -- but limits that are so high and generous they would be virtually meaningless. And, of course, Madigan, Cullerton, et al, show absolutely no willingness to limit their own ability to shower money on their fellow politicians."

ICPR agrees with these newspapers. Limits must be meaningful and comprehensive. Setting limits that are too high will do nothing to prevent officials from laundering payoffs through their campaign funds -- or from looking like that's what they are doing. Allowing unlimited transfers from parties and caucuses turns them into washing machines for contributors who have maxed out their donations to particular officials. Grousing and grumbling aside, it works at the federal level. It's time Illinois joined the modern world.

If you agree, speak up! Contact your elected representative by calling 1-800-719-3020. Send them an e-mail by going here. Scheduled adjournment is barely a week away. Now is the time to be heard.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CHANGE Illinois! Tells General Assembly Not To Play Games

Campaign Contribution Limits Must Cover Legislative Leaders

The CHANGE Illinois! coalition on Wednesday called on legislators to enact meaningful limits on campaign contributions from everyone, including political action committees controlled by the four legislative leaders.

“Illinois’ wide open campaign finance system allows large contributors to drown out the voices of everyday Illinoisans and is part of the reason Illinois has a much deserved reputation for corruption in government,” said Peter Bensinger, former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and a co-chair of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “With one former governor in federal prison and another facing an array of deplorable charges, voters are fed up and weary of the foot-dragging in the General Assembly.

“We call on legislators to enact meaningful reform,” he continued. “Limits must be set on how much money the four legislative leaders can collect and pass on to candidates of their choice. These war chests subvert the will of individual voters. Without limits on transfers, Illinois won't have real reform.”

The top priority of members of CHANGE Illinois! is the establishment of campaign contribution limits similar to the federal system with a $2,400 limit on contributions by individuals, $5,000 limit on contributions by political action committees, and a maximum $30,000 limit on transfers from legislative leadership committees to legislative candidates. The CHANGE Illinois! proposal is nearly identical to the proposal advocated by the Illinois Reform Commission, an independent group created by Gov. Pat Quinn and chaired by Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor.

At a press conference Wednesday, Collins and other IRC members joined with CHANGE Illinois! in an urgent call for General Assembly approval of meaningful campaign contribution limits, and leaders of CHANGE Illinois! commended Collins and the IRC for its efforts on behalf of reform.

“With less than two weeks left in the spring legislative session, there has been some talk about limiting campaign contributions, but there hasn’t been any action,” said Deborah Harrington, President of the Woods Fund of Chicago and a co-chair of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “There have been discussions in committee rooms and hallways, but it is not clear whether legislators will even take a vote on this important reform.”

“Illinois is in the spotlight, and the world is watching to see whether we will change the rules that have contributed to the corruption that has embarrassed this state,” said George Ranney, President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020 and a co-chair of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition. “Comprehensive limits on contributions, combined with more frequent public reporting of contributions and strengthened oversight of campaign finance laws, would put Illinois on the road to real reform.”

Launched in late February, CHANGE Illinois! is a coalition of civic, business, labor, professional, inter-faith, non-profit and philanthropic organizations aligned to bring government integrity to Illinois.

A list of members and additional information is available at

Monday, May 04, 2009

We need reform like yesterday's editorials

Anybody who's ever run for office will tell you that newspaper editorials don't vote; editorial writers, maybe, editorial readers, maybe, but editorials themselves represent only one thoughtful opinion. But with so many thoughtful pieces reaching the same conclusion, you'd think that conclusion had some merit:

This morning's New York Times expressed surprise that "Illinois’s statehouse bosses are hemming and hawing" about the prospects for reform and urged votes on the recommendations of the Illinois Reform Commission

The Chicago Tribune blasts the legislature for doing so little so many months after the Blagojevich arrest (and separately blasts Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie for making reform into a partisan issue)

If you agree with these editorials, you can do something the newspapers cannot: You can speak as a constituent to your elected official.

ICPR offers three ways to help you do this. Visitors to our website can now enter their address and instantly send e-mail to their legislators. We launch the feature with a letter on a topic near and dear to our hearts -- campaign finance reform -- and plan to add new letters in the weeks ahead. Customize the letter all you want; speak your mind. Your concerns will be delivered directly to your legislators!

Our website also directs visitors to a toll-free number (800-719-3020) to call your legislators, and to a petition. So many ways to make sure your representatives know what views you want them to represent!