Political Action Committee sues over Illinois campaign contribution limits

Bethany Krajelis Jul. 25, 2012, 9:46am


CHICAGO - A political action committee led by a former Republican candidate for governor has filed a lawsuit over Illinois' Election Code, claiming that certain campaign contribution limits violate its constitutional rights to equal protection and free speech.

Illinois Liberty PAC on Tuesday filed a complaint in Chicago's federal court against Attorney General Lisa Madigan and members of the Illinois Board of Elections. The suit challenges these contribution limits, claiming they unfairly restrain individuals and PACs while exempting political party committees.

Chicago radio-talk show host Dan Proft, who lost his bid for governor in the 2010 primary election, serves as chairman of Illinois Liberty PAC, which supports "candidates for public office who embrace public policy rooted in the principles of liberty and free enterprise."

Established in 2011, the committee was originally chaired by John Tillman, president of the conservative think-tank Illinois Policy Institute. Documents filed with the state board of elections show that Proft replaced Tillman as chairman within a few months of the committee's formation.

The lawsuit filed by Proft's PAC focuses on campaign contribution limits approved in 2009. The law limits the amount of contributions that individuals, political action committees and other companies can make to candidates in general elections to $5,000, $50,000 and $10,000 respectively.

Under the law, political party committees include central and state committees of a political party, as well as legislative caucus committees and those formed by a ward or township committeeman.

While the law limits contributions from these committees in primary elections, it does not do so in general elections.

Illinois Liberty PAC argues in its complaint that in primary elections, these limits imposed on political party committees "in a statewide race are 40 times the amount individuals may contribute --$200,000 versus $5,000--- and four times the amount PACs can make--$200,000 versus $50,000."

"Currently, there are limits on what a party can receive in a primary election--$50,000 from a candidate and $50,000 from another party—but the act eliminates these limits entirely effective July 1, 2013," the suit states. "While there are limits on what individuals, PACs and other nonparties can contribute to political parties, parties may receive unlimited contributions from candidates and other political parties."

Illinois Liberty PAC contends that current limits on campaign contributions force it "to make smaller contributions to candidates than it wishes" and to "sometimes decline to contribute at all if a small contribution would not make an impact in a race."

"But for the contribution limits in the act, Illinois Liberty PAC could make larger contributions to the candidates it supports," the committee asserts in its lawsuit. "Instead of being forced to make small, incremental contributions, it could make more substantial contributions that could significantly impact an electoral race, much as political parties can impact a race with their unlimited contributions."

If the limits remain in place, Illinois Liberty PAC claims that it "will lose its ability to participate as fully as it can and would like to in the 2012 election cycle."

The committee also claims that the law is unfair because it prevents officers of PACs from forming an additional PAC, but allows House Speaker Michael Madigan to serve as the treasurer of his own campaign committee, as well as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and the Democratic majority.

"The act's statutory scheme expressly ensures that the Speaker can make unlimited contributions from his candidate committee to the party committees he chairs, and then make unlimited contributions from his political parties to candidates," the lawsuit asserts.

Contending that the campaign contribution limits violate its right to equal protection and freedom of speech, Illinois Liberty PAC's wants the federal court to declare the law unconstitutional and enjoin the defendants from enforcing the provisions dealing with limits.

Earlier this month, the law at issue in the lawsuit was amended to basically eliminate campaign contribution limits in a race if an independent expenditure committee spends more than $250,000 in a statewide race or $100,000 in other races.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said in a July 6 statement on its website that Gov. Pat Quinn's approval of the amendment carves "a large loophole into the campaign contribution limits law."

Diane Cohen, Jacob Huebert and Peter White of the Justice Liberty Center in Chicago filed the lawsuit on Illinois Liberty PAC's behalf.

The case is No. 12 CV 5811.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Policy Institute
190 S La salle St
Chicago, IL 60603

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