Bill Chevalier | The future of campaign finance reform in Illinois as bleak as the money involved
In the spring of 1996, Kent Redfield was a 47-year-old political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, where he wrote a report for the Illinois Campaign Fundraising Project (ICPR) describing dozens of ways to change the way applicants collect and spend money. .
Given the 25 years since – months after the state Supreme Court ruled that Auditor General Frank Mautino broke state law to regulate campaign finance – Redfield remembers the victories and losses, and he’s not optimistic about improvements.
“Knowledge of the impact of money on politics is the basis for enabling citizens to ask informed questions and forcing those who give and those who take money to be publicly accountable,” Redfield said. “The sun can influence the votes in elections and influence the behavior of public officials in political decision-making. Making knowledge and civic action a force for cultural change is the key.
His report, “The Pros and Cons: 38 Possible Options to Change the Way Illinois Applicants Raise and Spend Money,” had a range of choices, from no changes to restrictions, from public funding to strengthen enforcement. He emerged amid an evolution in campaign finance, from powerful political parties, to national and local scandals to the upheaval possibilities of the United States Supreme Court.
Illinois party organizations weakened in the 1960s, and self-recruited politicians and candidate-centric groups filled the fundraising role. After Watergate, money in politics became an issue, and reformers helped Illinois adopt modest reporting / disclosure mandates.
But in the early 1990s, money poured into Illinois politics in ever-increasing amounts with little regulation, oversight or transparency, says Redfield, adding, “Illinois was the Wild West when it was a question of financing political campaigns.
The regulations had no control over the raising and spending of money in political campaigns, so the reformers’ strategy turned to demand change when scandalous, then compromise.
“This strategy fits the political culture of Illinois: pragmatic and power-oriented,” says Redfield. “When momentum was built for change, the default position of those in power, regardless of party, has never been ‘How can we do the right thing?’ but ‘What will it take for this to go away?’
“While the contribution ceilings bill is in fact a half-system (limits on incoming private money, no limits on parties and candidates who move it after it enters), the feeling was that the movement reform had taken the first big step. It turned out to be the last step.
There had been little action in the early 1990s, and reformers stepped up research and lobbying. Organizations like the ICPR had some success between the mid-1990s and 2010, when the Supreme Court in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ”basically decided that money was talk and that businesses were people.
The doomed “Citizens United” options for contribution limits and public campaign funding, allowing “black money” to rise so outside groups can spend money in secret. In addition, the rise in wealth at the top of society and the participation of the super-rich in politics has changed campaign finance in unexpected ways.
The ICPR and Redfield report did not anticipate such developments, particularly “black money groups using nonprofit status to avoid disclosure and the inability of the FEC and the IRS to deal with this fraud, and the impact of billionaire contributors and self-funded billionaire candidates ”. he says. “I also didn’t foresee how effective the designation of leader-controlled caucus committees would be in opening up the flow of money once it was handed over to a candidate. Once the money enters the system, legislative leaders can move it anywhere and in any amount. “
Everything that made the foundations funding reform efforts turn to issues like redistribution, refocused reformers and Illinois’ anti-reform political culture has proven to be resilient, Redfield said.
“One of the weaknesses of campaign finance as a political issue is that it does not have a strong constituency within the legislature,” he says.
As for Mautino’s situation, “I continue to be surprised that the legislature is unwilling to limit spending on campaign contributions for non-electoral purposes,” he continued. “It raises ethical questions and confirms the opinion of citizens that all politicians are involved. The fact that the legislature amended the Election Code to add language that gives the green light to practices it was investigated for tells you everything you need to know about the grim prospects for ethics reform. in Illinois.
Trying to improve campaign finance in the 21st century is daunting, says Redfield.
“To rebuild what was in place in 2010, we would have to create reform organizations with stable funding,” he said. “It would also require a different constitutional structure in terms of freedom of expression and financial contribution. Finally, we should change or at least find ourselves at a dead end with the political culture of Illinois.
“What needs to happen is full disclosure of who is contributing and what they are contributing so that we can document how money flows into the system and how that affects who gets elected and what policies are being considered,” adds he does. “A lack of political will and a lack of leadership and courage are the main factors preventing this from happening.
“I’m not very optimistic in the short term.”