Quad City Times
March 14, 2012
By Kurt Erickson
SPRINGFIELD — It took just a day for Illinois to get its first official Super PAC.
A little after noon Wednesday, the abortion-rights organization that convinced a federal judge to toss out part of Illinois’ 2009 campaign contribution law created its own independent-expenditure political action committee in order to accept unlimited contributions.
U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen’s ruling on Tuesday means individuals and businesses will have to continue operating under the caps imposed in the landmark 2009 law, while groups like Personal PAC can spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates as long as they do it independently.
Reform groups say Illinois likely will be stuck with the federal-style Super PACs until something is done at the federal level, whether by the U.S. Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment.
Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, who was a member of the Illinois Reform Commission that pressed for many of the limits that were enacted in 2009, expressed disappointment in Aspen’s ruling, saying it could mean a flood of money into the state’s political process.
“Unlimited money should not be the strongest voice in our democracy,” Simon said.
The limits approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn placed a cap of $10,000 on individual donations; $20,000 on corporate, labor or political party donations; and $50,000 from a PAC.
The cap on certain kinds of PACs is now gone.
“We look forward to hearing from reform groups about how the playing field can become more level for campaign finance in Illinois,” said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
A special task force is reviewing the state’s election code and the recently enacted campaign finance laws.
“House Republicans strongly urge the members of the bipartisan task force to review the Personal PAC decision and relevant case law for possible alternatives,” noted Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross.
David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said the nation’s highest court could take up the issue via a case from Montana.
He said it would be unlikely, however, for the court to move fast enough to affect the 2012 election cycle, in which every seat in the General Assembly is in play.
“While the state of Illinois may appeal this case, there already is an appeal from the state of Montana on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and we hope the Montana case gives nation’s highest court a chance to revisit and refine its stance on these types of political committees,” Morrison said.
“Until then,” Simon added, “I think what we’ve got is an unfortunate big foot in the door for big money.”