One of the improvements to Illinois' election law that took effect at the start of this year is a requirement that political committees disclose large donations throughout the year. This change will help the public better understand how campaign finance may be affecting public policy in real time -- not just at election time.
Before the new law took effect, committees had to report large donations only in the weeks before an election. But that left the public in the dark at other times of the year -- when matters were pending before legislative bodies, county boards or village councils. The public learned of large donations only after important legislation, rules, and ordinances had already been debated. The new law allows a great window of sunshine.
Campaign finance reports filed by sitting legislators and statewide officials show that they have already received over $2 million from wide variety of interest groups in 2011. Top contributors include:
(1) Ameren ($77,000)
(2) Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois/ABDI ($57,500)
(3) IL State Council of Operating Engineers/IUOE ($52,000)
(4) IL Laborers Legislative Committee/Laborers Unions ($48,000)
(5) IL State Medical Society ($44,500)
Ameren's giving stands out, not only because it's heads and shoulders above the rest, but because it's aggressively pursuing a major legislative initiative right now. Ameren, along with Commonwealth Edison (#8 on the list, showing $33,250 in contributions) is seeking a change to the law which would allow them to spend more on infrastructure improvements and pass those costs along to rate payers, while simultaneously curtailing the Commerce Commission's oversight role.
Since the start of the year, Ameren gave half of their donations to leadership, including $15,000 to House Republican Leader Tom Cross ($10K to Cross' own committee and $5K to the House Republican Organization); and $10K each to the Senate Democratic Victory Fund and the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee. They gave another $10K to Sen. Kirk Dillard, who sits on the Senate Energy Committee. Other recipients include Sens. Gary Forby, Mike Noland, and Dale Righter, all of whom also sit on the Senate Energy Committee, and State Rep. (and Chicago Clerk-elect) Susana Mendoza, who sits on the House Public Utilities Committee.
Will Ameren's giving have an effect on public policy? What about the other interest group giving? We'll have to wait and see. But we wouldn't even know to ask without the greater disclosure made possible by the new election law.
To search recent giving to legislators, statewides, Cook County and Chicago officials, please visit the Sunshine Database.