For a glaring example of how Illinois campaign finance limits are utterly inadequate, look no father than the caper pulled last week by the campaign fund for Republican comptroller candidate Leslie Munger.
Just days after raking in a cool $5 million from two billionaire allies of Gov. Bruce Rauner, Munger’s fund transferred $3 million to the Illinois Republican Party. Now the party is free to dole out all that cash to other races, doing an end-run around legal limits. Munger was free act as a pass-through for the $5 million because she recently blew the funding limit caps off her own race by accepting a large campaign loan from her husband.
So much for limited the overwhelming advantage of billionaires. Maybe our state symbol should be the loophole.
This is a shell game played both parties play, and it is legal. But we should all be troubled by the spectacle of big donors and politicians slipping through back doors to circumvent campaign finance laws. Both parties have set up webs of candidate committees, political parties and super PACs that allow them to elude the weak laws and shower unlimited piles of cash on their candidates.
In theory, the most a single donor can give to a campaign is $5,400, but moving the money from one fund to another is just one trick used to defeat donation limits. As Mick Dumke and Tina Sfondeles reported earlier this month, the Illinois Democratic Party under leader Michael Madigan also shuffles money through various committees to dodge donation limits.
As a result, more than $2 million has been spent in each of three politically key Illinois House races.
Illinois’ campaign finance law also is flawed because it imposes fund-raising limits on candidates, but not on legislative leaders. As we have written for years, reforms are long overdue to break this financial dominance over the Statehouse rank and file. Or party leaders will continue to make big decisions behind closed doors without the open debate essential to a democracy.