The timing of the challenge to Illinois’ campaign finance law is strategic, an expert says. Abortion-rights group Personal PAC, which is suing in federal court over limits on contributions to political action committees, has had since Jan. 1, 2011, when the law took effect, to challenge the law.
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Leading Illinois campaign finance expert Kent Redfield, a retired University of Illinois political science professor, says the group may have waited until election season to sue because it would be easier to get injunctive relief – which would allow it to ignore the limits law immediately while the matter is being litigated. “The attorneys of Personal PAC certainly would not tell you that’s what they did but that certainly is a possibility, that the timing is designed to give them injunctive relief through the primary and the general,” Redfield says.
The group, in Personal PAC vs. McGuffage, claims the law limiting the size of the contributions it receives, and limiting the group to maintaining one political action committee, violates its First Amendment rights, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC. Redfield says after the Citizens United decision, this type of lawsuit from an interest group like Personal PAC was inevitable. Citizens United eliminated the limits on campaign finance independent expenditures, meaning political action committees can spend unlimited amounts of money advocating issues and supporting candidates as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate’s campaign. This led to the creation of super PACs.
Redfield says the lawsuit is a means to an end. “This is the next logical step in terms of the litigation which is whether or not it is constitutionally permissible for state government to limit contributions to groups who are making independent expenditures,” Redfield says. Personal PAC says the group missed out on collecting tens of thousands of dollars in contributions last year as a result of the limits law. “With so much at stake, we cannot win elections with one arm tied behind our back,” Personal PAC President Terry Cosgrove says.