More On Illinois Judicial Campaign Finance Regulation Bill

I first wrote about the pending Illinois Senate bill to provide public financing for appellate and supreme court judicial candidates a few days ago. It’s SB0222, filed by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th) (Chicago), on February 7, 2007. The bill has bi-partisan sponsorship; a chief co-sponsor is Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-24th) (Minority Whip from DuPage County). Another chief co-sponsor is Sen. Don Harmon (D-39th) (Oak Park).

The bill sets up a process by which major party candidates can obtain public financing for their campaigns for appellate and supreme court seats. Under SB0222, candidates do not have to accept public money, but if they do there are strict limits on fundraising and expenditures. If a candidate accepts the public money — $250,000 for appellate court candidates for the general election; $750,000 for supreme court candidates — then private donations to the campaign are limited to $100 per contributor. A candidate may not put more than $10,000 of his or her own money, including money from his or her immediate family, into the campaign, and may not make a loan to the campaign.

The bill contains a detailed regime for fundraising and for institutionalizing the “Illinois Judicial Election Democracy Trust.” The Trust, which would operate under the governance of the State Board of Elections, will dole out the campaign money.

To qualify for public money for the general election, a candidate must win the party primary. Because the bill will provide money only for primary winners, it excludes independent candidates and candidates from third (minor) parties, neither of which are mentioned in the bill. That smacks of unfairness, if not unconstitutionality. So maybe instead of the “Democracy Trust,” it ought to be called the “Trust To Ensure Power Remains With The Two Major Parties.”

The bill also would create a new section to the Illinois Election Code entitled “Judicial Campaign Contribution Limits.” This section includes candidates for the circuit courts. Among other things, the new section would cap contributions by any one person to a judicial candidate at $2,000 per election period.

This cap acts as a double-whammy against independent and third party candidates for appellate and supreme court seats. In the first instance, they are ineligible for public financing. Then they are burdened with these contribution caps. That means an independent candidate must find 375 contributors to give the maximum of $2,000 to meet the $750,000 in public money available to a major party candidate for supreme court. An independent candidate for appellate court must get maximum contributions from 125 people just to get even.

This bill would force taxpayers to subsidize the campaigns of the major party candidates. And it will cost extra if you want to support an independent candidate.

The bill had a first reading and was sent to the Rules Committee. I’ll keep track of it and give you updates. You can read the General Assembly’s status by clicking here. Follow the link on the Status page for the full test, or click right here.