CHICAGO (CN) – Citing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, a political action committee claims Illinois unconstitutionally prohibits candidates from establishing multiple PACs, and limits contributions to them.
Personal PAC, a pro-choice nonprofit founded in 1978, sued the eight members of the Illinois State Board of Elections, in their official capacities, in Federal Court.
Co-plaintiff Marcena Love was a founder of Personal PAC, and co-plaintiff Grace Allen Newton is a member of its executive committee.
“Since its formation, Personal PAC has become a powerful voice for reproductive justice in Illinois,” the complaint states. “Since 1990, Personal PAC has been extensively involved in the election campaigns of more than 150 successful pro-choice candidates for state and county offices. These elected officials work with Personal PAC to keep anti-choice restrictions from becoming law and to expand access to reproductive healthcare for all women and girls in Illinois.
“Personal PAC makes it possible for like-minded individuals who are pro-choice and supportive of family planning services to pool their funds and thus, to speak more loudly and influence the outcome of elections more profoundly than if they were acting alone. To carry out its mission, every year Personal PAC spends significant amounts of money on political activities such as voter identification programs, professionally developed direct mail, election day get-out-the-vote programs, television advertisements, and volunteer coordination.
“Recently, the law applicable to PACs has changed. It changed as a result of the enactment of new campaign finance laws in Illinois (Public Act 96-832 (S.B. 1446), signed December 9, 2009, effective January 1, 2011) as well as the United States Supreme Court’s decisionCitizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010) and the Seventh Circuit’s applicationof that decision in Wisconsin Right to Life State Political Action Committee v. Barland, 664 F.3d 139 (7th Cir. 2011).
“This case arises because of the conflict between the holdings in Citizens United and Wisconsin Right to Life, on the one hand, and Illinois’s newly enacted restrictions on contributions to PACs, as applied to PACs that make solely independent expenditures or have independent-expenditure-only accounts, on the other hand.”
In an interview with Courthouse News, plaintiffs’ attorney Juliet Berger-White said, “The Supreme Court spoke in Citizens United and changed the rules of the game. Illinois has not followed suit. Illinois prohibits what the Supreme Court says is acceptable and what the First Amendment requires.”
The complaint states: “Personal PAC desires to exercise this First Amendment right, as articulated and guaranteed by Citizens United and Wisconsin Right to Life, to raise and spend funds for independent expenditures without contribution or spending limits. However, Personal PAC is prevented from doing so by the two provisions of the Illinois Election Code that are the subject of this lawsuit – Sections 5/9-2(d) and 5/9-8.5(d). 10 ILCS 5/9-2(d) and 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(d).”
The laws limit PACs to receiving no more than $10,000 from a person or $20,000 from a corporation, labor organization or association during one calendar year, and prohibits a PAC from establish additional PACs as a way to exceed the limits.
The complaint states: “But for the prohibitions contained in sections 5/9-2(d) and 5/9-8.5(d) of the Illinois Election Code, Personal PAC would immediately: (a) create a segregated, independent-expenditure-only account for the purpose of soliciting and receiving contributions in excess of current limits and for use solely for independent expenditures to elect pro-choice candidates, both in the current election cycle and in future election cycles; (b) establish one or more additional independent-expenditure-only PACs to receive those contributions; or (c) become a PAC that exclusively makes independent expenditures, again, to receive those contributions. However, Sections 5/9-2(d) and 5/9-8.5(d) of the Illinois Election Code have prevented Personal PAC from exercising its First Amendment rights to make these choices. … “Because of the restrictions of Sections 5/9-2(d) and 5/9-8.5(d) of the Election Code, Personal PAC estimates that it will be prevented from receiving tens of thousands of dollars in available donor funds during calendar year 2012, money that Personal PAC would maintain in an independent-expenditure-only account or additional PAC. This is money that Personal PAC has a First Amendment right to receive and spend for independent expenditures under the holdings in Citizens United and Wisconsin Right to Life.”
The complaint challenges the Illinois law “only to the extent that the law prohibits Personal PAC from fully exercising its First Amendment rights. It is not a broad sweep at the law regarding PACs,” Berger-White said.
She added: “This is an issue-based PAC, so to the extent that it can be independent of candidates, it’s in a different position than many PACs that have been in the press. It’s been around since 1978 and is seeking to continue the work it’s been doing. The contribution cap would still apply to Personal PAC’s contributions to individual candidates.”
Personal PAC seeks declaratory judgment that Illinois’ contribution limits and prohibitions of establishing more than one PAC violate the First Amendment, and an injunction against the enforcement of those provisions.
Berger-White works with Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym.