Panel Calls For More Light On Dark Money In Campaigns
A state senator says the biggest scandal in Illinois and across the country isn’t getting much attention and he’s not sure why.
Sam McCann, R-Plainview, says the rise of super PACs (political action committees) since the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is killing democracy and will discourage people from running for public office. He recently told the Illinois News Broadcasters Association, “Citizens United is the greatest internal threat our republic faces today.” He added, “To say that money is speech is asinine.”
McCann nearly lost an election when PACs backed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his allies gave his primary opponent $1 million dollars. McCann didn’t vote for a union-related Rauner initiative.
Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said Citizens United basically created a system of legal money-laundering in which companies and non-profits can donate without revealing the original source of money. “The 501 (c) (4s) are allowed to give money to a super PAC, but you have no idea where that money came from, absolutely no idea. And it really circumvents the entire point of having the system of disclosure.”
Super PAC Spending Grows
Brune said Citizens United resulted in an explosion of money to PACs which are not restricted in how much they spend as long as the spending is done independently of a party or candidate. According to Brune, in 2012, super PACs in Illinois spent a little less than $600,000. It jumped to $6.8 million in 2014 and rose to $20 million dollars in the first quarter alone this year.
Tom Newman, the director of campaign disclosure for the State Board of Elections, thinks the law should be changed to the way it was before 2009 in which non-profits were required to register and report the original source of the money they contribute to political campaigns. Brune says her organization will spend the summer crafting reform legislation.
McCann is skeptical anything will win legislative support, even after the November election. “We have four legislative leaders and the governor and it’s very difficult to get through that to get anything passed that is going to limit them.”