Lawsuit: 'Level playing field' in Illinois election campaign spending for independent advocacy groups

By Scott Holland | Jul 20, 2018

Dan Proft and a conservative Illinois political advocacy group are asking a federal judge to strike down certain campaign contribution limits.

Proft and Liberty Principles PAC filed a complaint July 20 in federal court in Chicago against the eight members of the Illinois State Board of Elections, as well as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

The complaint takes issue with the state exception to the rule lifting campaign spending limits when a candidate’s self-funding efforts exceed $250,000 for a statewide office or $100,000 for any other race. According to the complaint, Illinois Election Code “never allows groups registered as ‘independent expenditure committees’ to contribute to, or even coordinate with, a candidate, even in a race in which the limits have been eliminated for everyone else.”

“This lawsuit seeks to level the playing field in Illinois elections,” said Patrick Hughes, president of the Liberty Justice Center, which is representing Liberty Principles PAC. “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.”

Dan Proft  

The complaint states the state rules restrict free speech and free association rights, as these independent political action committees “do not pose a unique threat of corruption that could justify banning them from contributing to candidates at times when all others, including ordinary political action committees, may do so without limitation.”

According to the release from Hughes, Groups such as Liberty Principles PAC remain forbidden from giving to candidates or even talking with candidates about their plans.

Proft outlined relevant Illinois law dating to 2009, when the General Assembly amended the election code to install new limits on individual and organizational political donations. When one candidate exceeds the individual contribution level, that allows unlimited donations from individuals, PACs, party committees, candidate committees, corporations, unions or other associations.

At issue is a 2012 amendment, following a federal court opinion in Personal PAC v. McGuffage, forcing individuals who make independent expenditures of $3,000 or more in a 12-month period to file written disclosures and forcing entities that want to receive unlimited contributions for independent expenditures to register as such with the ISBE. Such committees can’t make contributions to a candidate, party committee or PAC.

Profit said he “would like to raise unlimited funds from like-minded individuals and organizations and, in turn, spend unlimited amounts on communications (such as television and radio advertisements and literature) supporting and opposing candidates for state elective offices” and also “communicate and coordinate freely with the candidates he supports because he believes that doing so would make his communications (and the candidates’ communications) to the public more effective.”

He said his choices — form a PAC and be subject to fundraising limits or form an independent committee and be prohibited from making contributions and coordinated expenditures — led him to form Liberty Principles in 2012, following which he said he has followed all relevant rules, but anticipates again being limited from full participation in the 2018 general election, citing at least seven state representative districts.

Saying the state law violates both First Amendment and equal protection clauses, Proft wants the court to declare the prohibitions unconstitutional and to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing Madigan or the ISBE from enforcing the limitations.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Attorney General Illinois State Board of Elections Liberty Justice Center Liberty Principles PAC U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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