Political Activist Wants Donation Caps Lifted in Illinois Office Races

(CN) – A Republican political action committee chairman and radio talk show host sued Illinois state leaders in federal court Friday, claiming the Illinois Election Code places unjustified restrictions on the amount that independent expenditures committees can contribute to candidates running for state offices.

Liberty Principals PAC chairman Dan Proft filed suit against Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and various Illinois Board of Election members seeking a declaration that the code violates the free speech and equal protection of independent expenditures committees affected by contribution restrictions that are not placed on self-funding candidates and independent contributors.

The election code prohibits groups registered as independent expenditure committees to donate or coordinate with a candidate, “even in a race in which the limits have been eliminated for everyone else,” the complaint filed in the Northern District of Illinois alleges.

In 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed certain contribution limits, but also made an exception allowing candidates to accept unlimited donations once they contributed a certain amount to his or her campaign, $250,000 in a statewide office race and $100,000 in any other race.

“This exception is not justified,” Proft said. “Groups registered as independent expenditures committees do not pose a threat of corruption that could justify banning them from contributing to candidates at times when all others, including ordinary political action committees, may do without limitation.”

“The code therefore unfairly, unreasonably restricts the free-speech and free-association rights of independent expenditure committees and the citizens who form those committees to engage in political speech,” the lawsuit states.

Proft, who formed Liberty Principals PAC in 2012 in response to the code, seeks an injunction allowing the committees to participate in races without facing contribution caps, in order to accumulate unlimited funding for television and radio ads supporting and opposing candidates.

Proft alleges the code’s “anti-corruption rationale” fails to justify blocking committees from donating unlimited amounts of money to candidates.

The state has failed to show the code’s contribution limit “is narrowly tailored to prevent corruption” or that lifting the rule would pose a greater threat of corrupting during statewide races, Proft claims.

Proft said he urges the court to enter an injunction preventing Madigan and the Illinois Board of Elections from enforcing the code’s donation limits on the committees.

He is represented by Patrick Hughes of Liberty Justice Center in Chicago, who said in a statement that the lawsuit “seeks to level the playing field in Illinois elections.”

“If individuals and every other kind of group are allowed to make unlimited contributions and speak freely with the candidates they support, then independent groups like Liberty Principles PAC should be allowed to do so as well,” Hughes said.

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