Chicago election first test for new campaign finance laws

23 Dec

By Christine Hurley

The Chicago elections Feb. 22 will be the first affected by the state’s new campaign finance law, but candidates still have a window to make it “politics as usual” before adhering to the standards.

Starting Jan. 1 at midnight, political candidates and organizations will have limits imposed on all money coming from private sources. There will also be limits on the transferring of money between political committees.

David Morrison, deputy director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the biggest change to the upcoming mayoral election will be contribution limits. He said he wished the new law had been set into place Nov. 3 of this year to eliminate the possibility of unfair advantages.

Candidates will be able to accept large donations until midnight on Dec. 31.

Morrison said negations for the campaign reform law began shortly after ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested. Speaker of the Illinois House Mike Madigan and President of the Illinois Senate John Cullerton were active in constructing the new law.

One major change to the political landscape will be a restructuring of political committees. There will be a requirement for any individual who receives contributions or makes expenditures exceeding $3,000 in any 12-month period in support of a candidate, party or ballot measure to:

• Form a political committee

• Register with the Illinois State Board of Elections

• Report campaign receipts and expenditures

An individual can join one of four committees: candidate political committee, political party committee, political action committee and ballot initiative committee. Contribution limits vary depending on the committee type and who is donating the funds.

No one person or corporation will be able to participate in more than one committee. Any single person or entity who has existing multiple committees must consolidate by midnight on Dec. 31.

Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said it’s difficult to know how the new law will actually be implemented at this point. “We expect to learn a lot more about how the rubber hits the road over the next few weeks,” she said.

During a media briefing Dec. 13, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and State Board of Elections outlined the new committees.

The candidate political committee is defined as a candidate, individual, group or entity designated by the candidate to accept contributions or make expenditures exceeding $3,000 in a 12-month period.

A political action committee (PAC) is similar; however, it excludes a candidate and generally are interest groups who give money to candidates in support of a cause. The ballot initiative committee also follows the same aggregate spending and receiving guidelines, but support public policies and not candidates. Interestingly, unlike the other committees, there are no limits on contributions to a ballot initiative committee per ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The political party committee is the fourth group. It includes the state, county, ward or township central committee of a political party and legislative caucus committees. Legislative caucus committees can be established to elect candidates to the General Assembly by:

• The four legislative caucus leaders or

• Five or more members of the same caucus of the Senate or

• 10 or more members of the same caucus of the House

The new campaign finance law will also limit the contributions committees can receive.

These limits will vary depending on committee type and the donor. Limits apply per election. Therefore, candidates for the mayoral election can take up to the limit for the primary in Feb. and again, if necessary, in the April election. For example, candidate committee X may receive a total of $5,000 from John Doe for the Feb. 22 primary, and an additional $5,000 for the April 5 runoff election. There is no limit to how many candidates John Doe can support.

A complete breakdown of contribution limits can be found on the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform site at www.ilcampaign.org.

Another change outlined in the new law is increased reporting of receipts and expenditures. Political committees are required to submit a report quarterly.

Andy Naumann, deputy director of disclosure at the Illinois State Board of Elections, said he believes the more frequent checks will limit fraud. Starting Jan. 1 all political committees must report large donations of $1,000 or more within five business days of receipt.

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