Issues: Campaign Finance (LWVUS)
LWVUS Position In Brief
Improve methods of financing political campaigns in order to ensure the public's right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office and promote citizen participation in the political process.
Note: This position is applicable to all federal campaigns for public office, primaries as well as general elections and may be applied to state and local campaigns.
Read the complete position on the LWVUS website.
Local leagues around the United States are engaging in information gathering and consensus around two LWVUS studies. Here are LWVUS links to both:
Money in Politics:
State of Illinois
In the fall of 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed and the Governor signed SB 1466 (PA 96-0832). This legislation that took effect on January 1, 2011, fundamentally changes the way Illinois regulates how money is used to influence politics. Specifically the law contains:
A goal of the League’s campaign finance reform strategy is to build support for public financing as the best long-term solution for having open and honest elections and for maximum citizen participation in the political process. A state Campaign Finance Reform Task Force was also created by PA96-0832. The Task Force is charged with reviewing the implementation of campaign finance reform legislation and looking at the feasibility of implementing a “clean money” campaign system – that would subsidize political campaigns in exchange for voluntary adherence to specified expenditure limitations. At a December 15, 2011 Task Force hearing the LWVIL presented testimony in support of public financing of elections. The LWVIL urged the Task Force to recommend that the General Assembly consider a system of public financing that will be open, fair and restore the trust of the public in elections in Illinois and in their state government. The League suggested that public financing in Illinois start with judicial elections because judges do not have constituencies and must be impartial and not subjected to political influences in making their decisions which should be based on law, evidence and facts of individual cases.
Testimony before the Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force is here.
The LWVUS is asking US Representatives to cosponsor the DISCLOSE 2012 Act (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) that will require complete disclosure of spending on big-money advertising in candidate elections.
In Citizens United v. FEC (January, 2010), the US Supreme Court ruled that in the electoral context the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives corporations, like people, free speech protections and spending money is a form of speech. The Court held that there is no difference under the law between an individual citizen and a multinational corporation (or any other corporation) when it comes to independent expenditures. Corporations and unions are now able to pay for television advertisements that directly call for the election or defeat of political candidates out of their treasury funds. Enhanced disclosure is the most basic step toward protecting the role of voters and ensuring that they can make informed decisions.
The LWVUS is urging President Obama to nominate new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). In this important election year, new Super PACs are flooding elections with huge expenditures from million-dollar donors. Because they are supposedly “independent” from the candidates and with new loopholes from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts from corporations and individuals, and they can do so with limited disclosure. Among other duties, the FEC can define what election efforts are “independent” from the candidates. The FEC is supposed to enforce campaign finance laws, but it is dysfunctional. Of the six commissioners at the agency, three of them staunchly refuse to enforce the law and five of the six are serving despite expired terms.
LWVUS ACTION on Money in Elections including Disclosure and FEC Nominations can be found here.
In February of 2015, 79% of Chicago voters supported the advisory ballot question calling for a small donor match program for aldermanic candidates. The Fair Elections ordinance being introduced to the Chicago City Council will create a small donor match program, where candidates who meet a number of requirements will be able to receive a 6-to-1 match on contributions up to $175. Small donor match programs have been found to increase potical participation and reduce the influence of large special interests. Common Cause who is leading the effort to pass the small donor match ordinance is having a kickoff event on February 16, 2016. Trevor Gervais, firstname.lastname@example.org, may be contacted for information about the Fair Elections Campaign and the event.
SB 248, Support: This bill closes a reporting gap and increases the frequency of reporting requirements for independent expenditures related to campaigns. SB 248 was sent to the Governor on June 26, 2015.
A TFA was sent to members asking them to urge Governor Rauner to sign the bill which he did on August 21st when it became PA99-0437.
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) is working to encourage small donor matching systems for campaign contributions adopted at the municipal level. ICPR has been conducting meetings with officials in Oak Park and Evanston aimed at having those communities adopt small donor matching systems for local elections for mayor and aldermen (Evanston) and for village president and village trustees (Oak Park). Position papers relating to small donor matching programs on topics such as existing programs, home rule authority, use of public funds for campaign expenses and public/private finance options are being explored and developed.
LWVIL has been asked to identify individuals in those communities who might participate in local support groups and identify communities outside the Chicago area that may be targeted about the possibility of implementing a small donor program in the future.
Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force: Illinois Senate President John Cullerton appointed former State Senator Maggie Crotty to the Task Force to replace the late Dawn Clark Netsch.
On February 20th, the LWVUS encouraged members to contact the IRS about proposed regulations affecting Section 501(c)(4) organizations. The IRS has proposed some significant changes to the regulations that govern the kind of political activity and how much of that activity can be undertaken by a Section 501(c)(4). A goal of these new regulations is to presumably rein in the secret dark money and some of the excesses occasioned by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. There is concern that the current proposals could undermine the League’s ability to conduct the nonpartisan voter service activities that are bedrock to the League of Women Voters.