By Ray Long, Chicago Tribune
Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill Friday that lifts the state's campaign contribution limits to candidates once big money starts flowing into a state or local political contest, a move that one watchdog group decried as effectively ending limits in any major race.
The measure is a response to a court decision that threw out parts of the Illinois campaign finance law imposed in the wake of the heavy-handed fundraising tactics of Democrat Rod Blagojevich, the impeached former governor now serving 14 years for corruption in federal prison. A federal judge ruled political action committees that act independently of a candidate are not bound by Illinois' campaign contribution limits.
The new law, which takes effect immediately, allows contribution limits to be removed in a race once an outside group spends $100,000 on behalf of a candidate for the Legislature or local government. The trigger for statewide races is $250,000.
Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said the law is necessary to keep the playing field as level as possible after rulings in theU.S. Supreme Courtand in federal court in Chicago opened the doors for major spending by so-called super PACs.
"Essentially the rules changed," Thompson said, "and this is a short-term solution to ensure fairness while we work on a more long-term fix."
During debate, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, compared the proposal she sponsored to a state law that removes limits when a candidate dips heavily into personal and family funds to infuse money into his political funds.
"If there are super PAC, independent PAC expenditures for a particular candidate, then campaign contribution limits would not apply to any candidate in the race," Currie said in May.
On Friday, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform contended the law provides a road map for any candidate who wishes to evade the limits. He or she could urge a group to pour in major donations on behalf of either side, and both sides would see the limits removed, said David Morrison, the group's deputy director.
"With this law, I'm confident there will not be limits in a governor's race," Morrison said.
The legal challenge that led to the change was brought by the abortion-rights group Personal PAC. U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen ruled the organization could create its own independent-expenditure PAC and take unlimited contributions.
Aspen found previous rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago "prohibit governments from enforcing limiting contributions to independent-expenditure-only PACs."
Illinois' first-ever campaign donation limit law placed a ceiling of $10,000 on individual contributions, $20,000 on corporate, labor or political party donations, and $50,000 from a PAC or a candidate's campaign bankroll.
The law also prohibited groups from having more than one political action committee.
Personal PAC successfully argued that the law prevented it from forming an independent-expenditure PAC, which cannot consult or work with a political candidate. Such PACs also are allowed to accept unlimited donations.
In other action:
-- The governor signed legislation that gives motorcyclists a bit of relief from the confounding problem of red lights that go on forever, particularly when automatic lights don't detect a motorcycle. The new law permits motorcyclists to proceed straight through a red light after a reasonable time of not less than 2 minutes has passed without a change in the light if the roadway is clear. The law takes effect immediately.
-- Quinn also issued an executive order aimed at plugging a gap that had allowed the deaths of disabled people to go uninvestigated by state officials even when there had been an allegation of abuse or neglect pending when the person died.
The Belleville News-Democrat had reported that the inspector general of the Department of Human Services did not investigate such deaths, instead closing the cases without determining whether abuse or neglect contributed or led to the death. William Davis, a former state police officer and the agency's inspector general since 2006, offered his resignation after the report.
The resignation is effective Aug. 1, allowing time for a transition, the governor's office said. Quinn ordered an overhaul of the process that would require examination when these types of deaths occurred.
(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune