Task force offers public financing options for campaigns
Grants and tax credits are among a list of five ways cash-strapped Illinois could adopt public financing of candidate campaigns, according to a campaign-finance reform task force report.
The Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force met Thursday in Chicago to hear from public financing supporters. In a draft report posted this week and due to state officials by the end of this year, the task force drew examples from different states and court rulings on campaign finance.
The report lists reasons both for and against public financing, which could be costly for a state government facing billions in unpaid bills and $85 billion in pension liabilities.
But task force members said changes were necessary to restore public trust in a system many consider broken.
"Government is working pretty good for some people, but it needs to work better for everyday people. And that's what this is about," said task force member William McNary, co-director of the progressive group Citizen Action Illinois. "This is a democracy. And our elected officials should be accountable to the people who elected them, and not these corporations who continuously purchase public-policy outcomes that benefit them."
Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Illinois' first caps on political donations two years ago. The limits bar individuals from giving more than $5,000 to a candidate in both the primary and general elections. Businesses, unions and other associations can give candidates twice that much, while political action committees can give $50,000 to a candidate in each election.
Task force members said public financing could be installed in a way that complies with those limits. The report concludes that "nothing discussed or analyzed herein is intended to be contrary to or undermine the newly enacted restrictions."
It lists five possible public financing systems the state could adopt:
• A one-time grant to any candidate who collects a required number of voter signatures and donations. Candidates who accept the "lump sum" grant would have to abide by certain restrictions and stop private fundraising.
• A dollar-for-dollar match by the state for small contributions from individuals until candidates reach a certain amount. The system would be opened to all candidates who opted to use it.
• A dollar-for-dollar match that offers matching funds to all candidates in certain elections.
• Tax credits or refunds for small-dollar donations from individuals.
• Public financing for judicial elections.
The report also lists reasons for the state to stand pat, particularly since contribution limits in Illinois remain relatively new. The report says the new limits' impact is "unknown because a full election cycle has not passed since the reforms were enacted."
The task force is expected to submit its final report Dec. 31.
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