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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Illinois PAC Wins Leave to Replicate Itself

CHICAGO (CN) - Illinois cannot limit contributions to political action committee or prohibit individuals from establishing such groups in multiples, a federal judge ruled.

Personal PAC, a nonprofit that fights for abortion rights, filed a federal complaint last month against eight members of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

"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," the complaint said. "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 claimed that two provisions of the Illinois Election Code violate its First Amendment rights, as articulated in the landmark Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

The first provision limited PACs to receiving no more than $10,000 from an individual and $20,000 from a corporation, labor organization or association in one year. The other prohibited a PAC from establishing additional PACs as a way to exceed the limits.

Co-plaintiffs Marcena Love, Personal PAC's founder, and Grace Allen Newton, a member of the executive committee, claimed they are "ready, willing and able to establish and maintain one or more independent-expenditure-only PACs, for the same purpose, and to immediately contribute more than $10,000," according to the judgment.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen ordered a permanent injunction last week, relying on the Seventh Circuit's ruling for Wisconsin Right to Life.

In that decision, the circuit court wrote: "after Citizens United there is no valid government interest sufficient to justify imposing limits on fundraising by independent-expenditure organizations." (Italics in original.)

Aspen held: "Thus, regulations imposing limits on fundraising by independent expenditure organizations cannot be justified - this applies equally to contribution limits as well as limits on the number of independent-expenditure PACs an individual or group may establish. Personal PAC has therefore demonstrated a better than negligible chance of prevailing on the merits, as well as inevitable actual success on the merits."

The court rejected claims by the Board of Elections that it needed the provisions to "regulate contributions and expenditures regulated to elections and electioneering," and to "curb corruption in Illinois politics."

"While these motivations are sound and worthy, it is not our job to consider the efficacy of a piece of legislation or the motives of its enactors in determining its constitutionality," Aspen wrote. Nor do we make that constitutionality determination on a clean slate. Our obligation is to interpret and follow the Constitution and binding precedent."

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