10th District candidates bash super PACs, but one would take the cash anyway
Editor's note: To clarify, the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case held the government cannot ban independent political spending by corporations or labor unions.
Three of the Democrats running to unseat Republican Bob Dold in the 10th House District say they want nothing to do with super-wealthy political action committees that have been spending millions on political ads while operating virtually unchecked.
Ilya Sheyman, Brad Schneider and John Tree criticized the so-called super PACs that have flooded communities with often-nasty political advertisements since they were ruled legal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010.
All said they would ask the groups, which don't face the same financial limits as people or traditional political committees, to stay out of the race if they win the nomination.
A fourth Democrat, Vivek Bavda, also opposed the concept of super PACs and the ruling that lets them exist, but his resistance was not as steadfast. Bavda said he would refuse super PAC support only if Dold made a similar promise.
"I don't believe in unilateral disarmament," Bavda said in an email.
The four Democrats spoke about super PACs and other political issues at the Daily Herald's office in Libertyville and in subsequent interviews.
A fifth Democrat, Hainesville resident Aloys Rutagwibira, is running a write-in campaign. He was invited to the interview session but did not attend.
Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates or political parties. But they can flood media markets with ads supporting or opposing specific candidates, have no legal spending restrictions and have different reporting requirements than individual donors or traditional political action committees.
The super PAC at the heart of the Supreme Court ruling was a conservative nonprofit group called Citizens United. Super PACs have been lampooned by comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart on their cable shows "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show."
Sheyman, of Waukegan, said Democrats and Republicans across the nation are fed up with the influence of corporations on the political process.
"I would, in my role as a candidate, ask them to stay out of this race and encourage them not to spend any money in the 10th District," Sheyman said. "Corporate speech is not equal to human speech."
Sheyman acknowledged his opposition to super PACs puts him at odds with the White House and his party. President Barack Obama had been opposed to super PAC funding but recently embraced the support mechanism.
He panned the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps fund House candidates, for starting its own super PAC and seeking out "those same, big-dollar corporations for big contributions."
"I oppose that and I'm willing to stand up to my party on it," Sheyman said.
Some foes of super PACs have talked of amending the Constitution to keep them out of the political process. Sheyman supports such an amendment.
Schneider, of Deerfield, pledged to try to keep super PACs out of the 10th District race, too.
"I think the voters of the 10th District should be free to make their decision who is the best candidate to beat Bob Dold in November without the distorting, shadowy influence of super PACs," Schneider said in an email. "I join with Ilya Sheyman, and hopefully the other candidates, in asking all super PACs and other outside groups to stay out of the primary race."
Schneider said he would prefer lawmakers tackle the issue legislatively through campaign finance reform before trying to amend the Constitution. He said he would back an amendment if it is needed.
"I am committed to doing whatever is necessary to fix the travesty inflicted upon our electoral process by the Citizens United case," Schneider said.
Tree, of Long Grove, called the Citizens United ruling "appalling." He said he will "actively discourage" super PAC involvement in the race if he is the Democratic nominee.
"Super PACs don't play by the same rules as anyone else," Tree said in an email. "The voices of American voters are being muted by a tiny number of millionaires and billionaires who, thanks to the Citizen's United ruling, have way too much power over who gets elected in this country."
Tree hopes Dold disavows super PACs as well. But he acknowledged a candidate "would be at a tremendous disadvantage" if he didn't have super PAC support while an opponent did.
"(That) goes back to my statement of why super PACs are so inherently wrong," Tree said.
Tree said he would support an amendment to stop super PACs but believes the issue can be addressed legislatively.
Bavda, of Mundelein, was the only candidate who didn't take a unilateral stand against super PAC involvement in the race.
"It entirely depends on what Dold does," he said. "If Dold accepts help from super PACs, yes, I'll take the help."
Bavda said he will ask Dold to issue a joint news release discouraging super PAC activity in the race if he wins the Democratic primary on March 20.
Without such a bipartisan pledge, however, Bavda said he would not only accept super PAC support, but he also would seek it out.
"The moment I learned that super PACs will help Dold, I would encourage the persons of the 10th District to help me in the same way," he said.
Bavda said his political agenda "is too important to fight with one hand tied behind my back."
He backed the idea of a constitutional amendment to stop super PAC activity but doesn't think such action will be needed.
The 10th District includes parts of Lake and Cook counties.