By Bethany Jaeger
The Illinois General Assembly has been here before. Lawmakers Friday made history approving legislation limiting the amount of money flowing into political campaigns and reducing outside influence on the lawmaking process.
They had made history before, but in a rare event, the governor and all four legislative leaders agreed to veto the measure and start over.
The difference this time around is that reform advocates are on board. Unfortunately for Republicans, that leaves them without leverage in demanding stricter limits on the amount legislative leaders and statewide political parties can give to their chosen candidates.
Negotiations, particularly in the past week, have been “hard-fought, frank and full,” according to Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Change Illinois negotiator. The group wanted more. “I don’t think it is any secret that we had hoped to apply [limits on legislative leaders] in both the general and in the primary,” she said. “However, that was not the result of our negotiations.” She later added: “We tried as hard as we possibly could. We have been through some very thorough, very loud, very long negotiations. We could not bring them to this point.”
Capping contributions from political parties and legislative leaders in primary elections would still represent meaningful reform, according to Canary, because that’s where the election cycle starts, where independent newcomers have a chance to enter the process. And candidates would have to report more frequently the amount of money raised and spent. That could allow the public to better “follow the money,” or detect quid pro quo if large campaign donations flowed to politicians just as they were about to act on major legislation. The State Board of Elections also would gain new power to track, audit and penalize campaign finance violations.
Republicans disagreed that limiting the amounts legislative leaders and political parties in the primaries would be enough.
“Nothing changes — nothing — when it comes to money, except one thing: Everybody that’s not a leader is limited,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross. “The power, the money and control stays vested in four people,” he added, citing the top four legislative leaders of each political party.
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