Mega-donors still winning under Illinois' campaign finance restrictions
A new report by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) suggests that legislation put in place in the wake of the scandal that led to the imprisonment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has fallen short of its goal.
Researchers have determined that in the last 90 days alone, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has amassed a political war-chest of at least $5.2 million.
Filed by Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) in early 2009, Senate Bill 1466 laid the landscape, at least on the surface, for the system that now sets contribution limits for individuals at $5,600 and $11,100 for corporations.
In reality, savvy politicians like Emanuel have found ways to make use of a loophole that allows the best-heeled of their backers to make contributions upward of $100,000 in non-statewide elections and up to $250,000 in statewide elections when the donor uses their own money.
Already in Chicago’s upcoming mayoral race, local millionaire businessman Willie Wilson has donated at least $100,000 to his own campaign.
According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, in the days following Wilson’s actions, he bagged all 72 of the donations accounting for his $5.2 million, with a minimum of 23 of the donations eclipsing $100,000 or more.
In all, nearly $11 million has been raised among the nine contenders for mayor, with at least $9 million of the funds ending up in Emanuel’s coffers. His largest contribution of $500,000 has come courtesy of Grosvenor Capital Management CEO Michael Sacks.
ICPR also notes that organized labor groups have been more than willing to show Emanuel the money, with contributions of $250,000 all coming from the Engineers Political Education Committee, the Ironworkers Political Education Fund, the Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC and the LIUNA Chicago Laborers' District Council PAC.
“Illinois' system, however, at first seems designed to limit the influence of large donors, but it ultimately leaves the wealthy still holding all the cards,” ICPR leaders said in a press release. “The typical Illinois voter is hard-pressed to compete with the attention that such large checks inevitably garner. And their voices will continue to be drowned out if lawmakers don’t enact more comprehensive campaign finance reform, such as a small-donor matching system.”
A deeper analysis of all the money now freely flowing reveals all the big spending isn’t limited to just the city race for mayor.
In the race to replace retiring Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the group Fight Back for a Better Tomorrow recently made an independent expenditure contribution of $255,000 to the campaign of Democratic candidate Kwame Raoul.