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posted: 2/27/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Look behind the campaign cash

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  • BRIAN HILL PHOTO

      BRIAN HILL PHOTO

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

You can't tune out the political ads this time of year. The frequency, and probably the rancor, will intensify until the March 18 primary election.

Those ads cost a bundle of money. So does traveling around the state or district and mustering a sophisticated campaign organization that can identify and stir the passions of potential voters.

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Where's all that money come from?

Knowing that could help you cast your vote more wisely -- and point up some flaws in campaign funding that need to be addressed.

Since it's hard to ignore the political ads, take a more conscious look. Find the fine print saying who paid for the ad. It might not be the candidate at all. Often that's the role of so-called super PACs, which can spend unlimited funds to back or oppose a candidate in the wake of the 2010 "Citizens United" federal constitutional law case. The court decision vastly increased the influence of money in politics by letting people, corporations, labor unions and other organizations commit unlimited wealth with one rule -- they can't coordinate efforts with a candidate they're supporting.

Unlimited super PAC spending can't be undone without another federal court ruling or a constitutional amendment, which some in the suburbs pursued in 2012 by passing advisory referendums in Kane County and in Lisle Township in DuPage County urging that such spending be limited. They're concerned that such big spending will leave candidates beholden to the donors and give wealthy corporations and people undue influence.

What's a voter to do? A few minutes online can tell you a lot about where a candidate is getting money or support. The Illinois Board of Elections, at www.elections.il.gov, lists information about "independent expenditure" committees, including their missions, who donates to them, and who they give money to. So does the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform at www.illinoissunshine.org.

You know not to believe everything that's said in a political ad, but where can you find more reliable information? Candidates state their positions on issues in their own words at www.dailyherald.com/news/politics/elections, and Project Vote Smart, www.votesmart.org, lists endorsements and voting records of those who've held office before.

Meanwhile, we've spoken before against the lack of limits on contributions to candidates from Illinois' four legislative leaders, which will come into play in the run-up to the Nov. 4 general election. Super PACs' greater resources have blunted the effect of this loophole, but we continue to believe it should be corrected.

Big-money donors wield a lot of power in elections and have made voters' jobs more difficult in some ways. Yet, it takes only a small effort to make an educated decision, and that leaves the ultimate power in the hands of the voters.

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