CHICAGO -- A recent U.S. District Court ruling that denied a challenge to state limits on campaign contributions is being appealed.
Liberty Justice Center and its political action committee are joined in the appeal by State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) and Edgar Bachrach. They argue that the state's statutory limits on campaign funding violates First Amendment rights by limiting donations to the campaigns of candidates by individuals and political action committees while allowing corporations, political parties and legislative leaders to make much higher or unlimited donations.
Under certain conditions, political parties and legislative leaders can make unlimited donations to candidates they support while candidates that are not supported by political party leadership, such as McCarter, are limited in the amount they can accept from the sources available to them, such as individuals and PACs.
Opponents of the ruling say this ends up tilting the electoral playing field decidedly in favor of incumbents and makes it more difficult for newcomers to mount challenges.
It also violates the First Amendment and a Supreme Court ruling stating that statutory limits on campaign contributions can only be enacted if they are intended to prevent corruption, Liberty Justice Center senior attorney Jacob Huebert said.
¨Generally speaking, campaign finance limits tend to benefit incumbents by allowing them to raise more money. That adds to the challenges faced by self-funded or independently funded candidates,¨ Huebert told the Record.
Incumbent office holders can and do take advantage of other substantial advantages when running for re-election, Huebert pointed out.
¨They can use their offices to reach out to constituents through a variety of communications channels, such as newsletters, take advantage of organized public appearances and General Assembly sessions, for instance. It all just piles up, and Illinois' limits on campaign finance really give them [incumbents] an unfair advantage,¨ he said.
Illinois' statutory limits on campaign donations went into effect in 2010. Liberty Justice Center filed its lawsuit in 2012.
The first court ruling came in March 2014 when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago Division, granted the state's motion to dismiss the parts of the claim that challenged the law's treatment of corporations and the elimination of limits based on self- and independently-financed campaign expenditures. The judge also dismissed the plaintiffs' challenge regarding political parties being granted more favorable treatment, Huebert said.
¨The Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot enact legislation that limits the amount of expenditures by individuals, corporations or other groups to support the campaigns of independent candidates for government office,¨ Huebert said. ¨The Supreme Court justices concluded that this is purely an issue of First Amendment right to political speech and posed no threat of corruption.¨
The support of one of the two major political parties or independent wealth is effectively required in order to win an election for public office in Illinois, Huebert said.
¨Everyone else is in the same camp: they need to raise small amounts of money from lots and lots of people, which makes it particularly difficult for newcomers who are not independently wealthy, such as Gov. Bruce Rauner," he said. "Eugene McCarthy was able to break through and have his message heard back in 1968 by gaining the support of a small number of wealthy backers. Today that can't be done because of campaign finance limits, such as those that exist in Illinois.¨