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Miller: Illinois superPACs keep the cash coming

Updated: December 6, 2012 6:15AM



Independent expenditures in Illinois legislative races are closing in on the $2 million mark since July 1, with most of that spending coming during October, Illinois State Board of Elections records show.

Last March, a federal judge struck down Illinois’ law capping contributions to so-called state superPACs. Since then, according to the elections board’s website, $1.8 million has been spent by groups on Illinois campaigns. As of late last week, $1.3 million of that amount was spent in October.

SuperPAC money is expected to increase exponentially in 2014, when governor and other statewide offices are up for election. So far, just 11 independent expenditure committees have been formed, but more will surely be after this election cycle ends.

Some of the top spenders this year have familiar names. The pro-choice Personal PAC, the Jobs PAC formed by the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Realtors have all spent big bucks backing or opposing various candidates.

A new superPAC called Liberty Principles PAC, formed by Republican activist Dan Proft, has reported spending $78,000 in just a week, with more on the way. The group’s ads are targeting Senate and House candidates in the same districts.

So, for instance, the PAC is running a TV commercial blasting Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline) and Rep. Pat Verschoore (D-Milan) at the same time, as well as Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Democratic Senate candidate Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).

Personal PAC so far has been one of the biggest players in the Illinois superPAC arms race. Its parent organization is a pro-choice behemoth long has wielded major influence in Illinois politics. Personal PAC plays hardball.

If a candidate refuses to fill out its questionnaire, which often happens with moderate candidates or those who lean pro-life, Personal PAC labels the candidate as pro-life without exception. And then the direct mail and TV commercials start to fly. It’s never a pretty sight, unless you like this sort of thing.

As of a week ago, Personal PAC has reported spending more than $330,000 on independent expenditures. But it has plenty more cash available. The group ended the third quarter with almost $290,000 in the bank. Since the end of September, it has raised about $400,000, half of that from two people.

The state elections board website says Personal PAC is the only superPAC that has spent more than $100,000 on a single race — $159,000 against Republican Senate candidate Joe Neal in northern Lake County. A new state law removes all contribution limits on candidates once a superPAC crosses that $100,000 threshold in a race.

In comparison, the only “pro-life” superPAC registered with the state spent just $1,500 in October. The Pro-Life Victory Committee is backing a Republican Senate candidate in the Quad Cities area.

When it comes to the abortion issue, nobody has ever come close to Personal PAC’s dominance.

The Jobs PAC, formed by the manufacturers association, has outspent Personal PAC overall so far, dumping more than $400,000 into races during October, according to the elections board’s records.

About half of that spending occurred in the last week of the month, with big bucks going for and against five Senate candidates. Most of the candidates the group is backing are Republicans, but they’ve spent a considerable amount of money to help Jacobs.

The National Association of Realtors’ superPAC spent almost $200,000 last month. The group is focusing on four legislative races, with its biggest spending ($50,000) on behalf of state Rep. Skip Saviano (R-Elmwood Park). Saviano is in the fight of his political life against a heavily funded Democratic opponent.

SuperPACs are a relatively new phenomenon in Illinois politics. They haven’t yet dominated campaigns like they’re doing at the federal level, where their spending is dwarfing congressional candidates’ own cash.

But as with any new political invention, you can bet the superPACs’ spending will increase in the coming years.

A few years ago, hardly anyone got robocalls. Now, everybody in a contested district is flooded with them. It’s the way of the beast.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.



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