Friday, October 05, 2012

Judge rules to keep campaign contribution limits in place

By Jamey Dunn

A U.S. District Court judge today denied a request to block Illinois' campaign contrition limits, but the group behind the lawsuit plans to push forward with its efforts to get the state's new campaign finance law tossed out.

Illinois Liberty PAC, a political action committee, sued to have the limits thrown out. The group argued that the state law was unfair because contribution limits apply to individuals and groups, such as businesses and labor unions. However, political parties have no limit on the amount of money they can give to candidates. “Party bosses should have to live under the same laws they impose on the rest of us,” Dan Proft, chairman of Illinois Liberty PAC and former gubernatorial hopeful, said in a written statement when the group filed the suit. “This law is a scheme to further consolidate power in the hands of party bosses by limiting the participation and free speech rights of 13 million Illinoisans. Everyone who wants to participate in the political process in Illinois should be treated equally.”

But federal Judge Gary Feinerman of the Northern District of Illinois denied the group’s request to lift the limits. “If a preliminary injunction were granted, there would be no contribution limits for individuals and PACs in the weeks leading up to the 2012 Illinois state elections. This would create a manifest possibility of actual or apparent corruption, an irreparable harm to Illinois, its citizens and the public interest. That harm far outweighs any irreparable harm that the challenged provisions might impose upon individuals and PACs, who may contribute up to $5,000 or $50,000, respectively, to any given candidate, and who may make their voices heard by devoting unlimited sums to their own independent expenditures or by contributing unlimited sums to independent expenditure committees or to PACs that make only independent expenditures,” Feinerman wrote in his ruling.

“This federal ruling ensures that rules to combat corruption in Illinois state government will remain in place in the coming weeks through this, the first general election under this important reform measure,” David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said in a prepared statement.

“We don’t believe that there would have been any harm in striking these caps down as unconstitutional,” said Diane Cohen, general counsel representing Illinois Liberty PAC.

She pointed to a recently passed law that removes the caps in races if an outside group, such as a political action committee, makes independent expenditures over certain limits. “The fact that cap limitations are expendable in the face of [certain kinds of] speech ... really calls into question the very purpose of the caps themselves.”

The group plans to move forward with an appeal and still hopes to get the limits blocked before the general election in November. “Challenging any statute is often an uphill battle but certainly one that we are ready to move forward on,” Cohen said. 


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