Kadner: Politicians find excuse to lift contribution caps
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 May 25, 2012 9:50PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:31AM
No matter what the do-gooders do to try to stop political corruption in Illinois, it doesn’t seem to do any good.
The folks who campaign for political honesty in Illinois (they also believe the Cubs are going to win a World Series) are upset about a law proposed in Springfield that would remove limits on campaign contributions that took effect in 2011.
The original measure, the first bill in Illinois history to place limits on campaign donations, was cheered as landmark legislation when it passed in 2009 following the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But the U.S. Supreme Court since has ruled that the federal government can’t place limits on how much political action committees that act independently of candidates can spend.
That has led to the creation of Super PACs in the presidential election and lawsuits by political action committees to overturn the Illinois law.
And it has provided state legislators with an excuse to undo the Illinois law capping campaign contributions.
Under legislation proposed by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), anytime a person or independent PAC spends $250,000 on a statewide race or $100,000 on a campaign for a legislator or government in Illinois, all restrictions on campaign contributions to individual candidates would be lifted.
At first blush, that sort of makes sense.
If a Super PAC (say an anti-gun or anti-abortion group) decided to spend $5 million on TV commercials aimed at defeating a member of the Illinois House, the legislator targeted ought to be able to raise enough money to defend himself.
But when a reporter raised that issue to Dawn Clark Netsch, a board member of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and former gubernatorial candidate, she explained just how sleazy the political process is in Illinois.
Netsch said the fear is that elected officials would create a PAC and raise money for it just to trigger the loophole in the proposed law that allows them to raise more money for their race.
Candidate X, for instance, would tell his buddies to create a political action committee and contribute $105,000 to it just so Candidate X could then go out and tap contributors for as much money as they want to give.
Although the PACS are supposed to be independent of political candidates, everyone in the upcoming presidential election knows that President Barack Obama has such a PAC raising money for him and Republican Mitt Romney has another raising money for his campaign.
To show there’s a violation of the law, someone would have to prove that the PAC is coordinating its activities with the candidate.
But even that qualification seems silly because some PACs have shared office space and consultants with candidates and have people working for them who previously worked for the presidential candidates.
The do-gooders in Illinois say that politicians in this state are simply using the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to undo the reforms of the post-Blagojevich area. Imagine that.
I don’t believe you can legislate political honesty or make campaigns fair by passing limits on campaign spending. I think the upcoming presidential election is a perfect example of that.
The Supreme Court has basically said that money buys free speech in America. It seems wrong to me to say that some billionaire can spend a fortune to defeat a candidate or promote a cause but an elected official cannot, unless he secretly puts together a similar organization to counter those attacks.
The campaign contribution laws patched together so carefully by the do-gooders, which never really reduced the influence of the wealthy anyway, now have become antiquated and self-defeating.
Most of the power to influence elections through spending now is in the hands of people who will remain unknown to voters.
In Illinois, where state representatives alter regulations for ComEd and then go to work for the company as lobbyists and legislative representatives, it seems ludicrous to suggest that the government is not for sale.
The Supreme Court has said that anyone who can buy enough airtime to destroy a candidate and alter an election has a right to do so.
Limiting direct campaign contributions to candidates only encourages dishonesty.
But I’m glad the do-gooders believe their efforts can lead to honest government in Illinois.
Hey, it makes people feel good. Just like believing in Santa Claus.