CHICAGO (CN) – Illinois election rules lawfully prevent independent expenditure committees from contributing directly to candidates running for state offices, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, rejecting a Republican Super PAC’s First Amendment challenge.
The Illinois Election Code distinguishes between independent expenditure committees – often colloquially called Super PACs, which do not coordinate with a candidate’s political campaign – and political action committees, which do work with campaigns.
Illinois PACs may contribute $53,900 to a candidate’s campaign, but independent expenditure committees may raise and spend as much money as they want, so long as the money is not given directly to a candidate.
In 2009, the Illinois General Assembly made an exception to campaign contribution limits allowing candidates to accept unlimited donations if they either hit a self-funding threshold or an independent expenditure committee spent a certain amount on the race – $250,000 in a statewide office race and $100,000 in any other race.
However, this exception does not apply to independent expenditure committees, which still may not donate or coordinate with a candidate under any circumstances.
Earlier this year, Liberty Principles PAC chairman Dan Proft filed suit against Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and various Illinois Board of Election members seeking a declaration that the state election code unconstitutionally places restrictions on campaign contributions made by independent committees “even in a race in which the limits have been eliminated for everyone else.”
Proft, who formed Liberty Principals PAC in 2012, sought an injunction allowing his independent expenditure committee – which is not technically a PAC, although it is so named – to participate in races without facing contribution caps in order to accumulate unlimited funding for television and radio ads supporting and opposing candidates.
But U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall denied his request for an injunction and dismissed the case on Wednesday.
“Proft would have this court abolish the Supreme Court’s carefully crafted contribution-or-expenditure litmus test so he can ‘raise unlimited funds,’ ‘spend unlimited amounts,’ ‘make unlimited contributions to the candidates he supports,’ and ‘communicate and coordinate freely with those candidates,’” Kendall said. “It appears, then, that what Proft would really like is to have his cake and eat it too.”
Citing multiple federal appellate opinions supporting her decision, Kendall said that the state has a valid anti-corruption interest in ensuring that money raised for independent expenditures be used only for that purpose and not as campaign contributions.
“Illinois’ suppression of independent expenditure committee’s contributions to candidates is a closely drawn means of preventing corruption or its appearance,” the 20-page opinion states. “Consequently, it is constitutional under the First Amendment.”
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