CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit on Monday rejected a conservative PAC’s challenge to an Illinois law banning direct campaign contributions by independent expenditure committees, citing the need to curb corruption.
The Illinois Liberty PAC is an independent expenditure committee founded by Dan Proft, a conservative radio talk-show host and former Republican candidate for governor.
Under state law, an independent expenditure committee is a type of political action committee that may raise unlimited funds but it is prohibited from contributing any of that money directly to a candidate, party or another PAC.
Taking its fight to court, Illinois Liberty claimed this blanket prohibition violates the First Amendment because there are instances where the Illinois code lifts contribution caps for other entities and individuals. For example, if a candidate self-funds their campaign to the tune of $250,000 or more, the state election code waives contribution limits for all candidates in that race.
In these circumstances, Illinois Liberty PAC claims it should also be allowed to contribute unlimited money directly to candidates.
But a federal judge rejected this line of reasoning, and a panel of Republican-appointed Seventh Circuit judges affirmed Monday.
“If the contribution and coordination ban on independent expenditure committees is lifted in races where contribution caps are removed, a substantial risk of actual or apparent corruption would arise,” U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Brennan, a recent appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote for the court.
While regular PACs can contribute to candidates without limits in races where the contribution cap is lifted, individual donors to that PAC may still only contribute up to $10,000. This limit substantially reduces the risk of quid pro quo corruption, the court found.
“Partially lifting the contribution and coordination ban on independent expenditure committees also would permit individuals to circumvent Illinois’s disclosure regime,” Brennan said.
The judge continued: “If the contribution and coordination ban were lifted, an individual could make unlimited contributions to an independent expenditure committee and then request that committee donate those funds to a candidate.”
If Illinois Liberty PAC wishes to make direct campaign contributions, the 13-page opinion suggested that Proft reorganize his independent expenditure committee as a traditional PAC.
Brennan’s opinion was joined by U.S. Circuit Judges Frank Easterbrook and Michael Kanne, both Ronald Reagan appointees.
“We disagree with the ruling and are evaluating our options," the PAC's attorney, Jeffrey Schwab with the Liberty Justice Center, said in a statement:
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Attorney General’s office said, “We are pleased with the decision.”