SPRINGFIELD — Fallout from a court decision that threw out parts of Illinois' campaign finance reform law continued to be felt as a House Democratic push to remove certain contribution limits drew criticism from a watchdog group Wednesday.
The tense debate followed a federal judge's March ruling that political action committees that act independently of a candidate are not bound by Illinois' limits on campaign contributions. The limits, aimed at curbing corruption, were imposed in the wake of the Gov. Rod Blagojevich scandal.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, advanced legislation that would remove contribution limits once an outside group spends $100,000 on behalf of one candidate for the Legislature or local government. Lifting the restrictions would give an opponent a chance to "level the playing field," she said. The trigger to lift the limits in a campaign for a statewide office would be $250,000.
"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. She compared her proposal to state law that removes limits when a candidate dips heavily into personal and family funds.
But a top official with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform suggested the Currie bill would "carve out a new legal loophole." David Morrison, the group's deputy director, said the Currie legislation would provide a road map for a manipulative candidate who wished to get rid of the limits. A third-party group that supports a governor candidate, for example, could put together enough money to remove all limits intentionally and time the move for maximum benefit, Morrison said.
Morrison urged for a task force to study what's best rather than rushing through a response as lawmakers hurtle toward a May 31 adjournment deadline. But Democrats sent the bill to the full House on a 4-3 party-line vote in committee.
In a case brought by the abortion rights group Personal PAC, U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen ruled that the organization could create its own independent-expenditure PAC and take unlimited contributions.
Aspen found that previous rulings by theU.S. Supreme Courtand 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 limitation law placed a ceiling of $10,000 on individual donations; $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 Senate Public Health Committee voted 8-0 to tax adult entertainment clubs to help fund rape crisis counseling centers, sending the measure to the full Senate for consideration.
Under the bill, striptease clubs that sell or allow alcoholic beverages to be consumed would either have to charge $3 admission fees or pay taxes of $5,000 to $25,000 a year based on income.