In yesterday’s installment, How the Money Moves, Part 2, the last thing I wrote was “Also, it’s unlikely that this is our last unexpected development before the election. Stay tuned.” It took less than 20 minutes for that to come true.
Last night the Governor’s Independent Expenditure committee, Turnaround Illinois, filed a B-1 disclosing independent expenditures totaling $101,843.15 for radio ads supporting House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who is unopposed this fall. When an IE committee makes independent expenditures supporting or opposing a candidate in a race in amounts greater than certain limits ($250,000 for a statewide race, $100,000 for all other races) the contribution limits are lifted for all candidates in that race. Section 5/9-8.5 (h-5) and (h-10) of the election code govern this process, neither specify that an opponent is necessary in order to lift the caps and I could find no other section of the election code that made an opponent a requirement to lift the caps. It appears that even though Leader Durkin is unopposed, this action will lift the caps in his race and his campaign committee will be able to raise unlimited funds for the rest of the year. As we’ve mentioned before in a general election candidate committees are allowed to make unlimited transfers to party committees who can then make unlimited transfers to candidate committees so leader Durkin will be able to transfer unlimited amounts to either the Illinois Republican Party or the House Republican Organization (HRO is registerd as a party committee) who can then spend or transfer that money in unlimited amounts on other legislative races as they wish.
Turnaround Illinois was created in April of 2015 by the Governor and his allies. Its chairperson is the CFO from the Governor’s campaign and its treasurer is his campaign’s chief legal counsel. Since inception the committee has raised $6.25 million, $4 million from former Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell and $2.25 million from Bruce Rauner’s personal funds. The Governor spent the last few months touring the state in support of term limits which was accompanied by a television campaign, those TV ads were paid for by the Turnaround Illinois independent expenditure committee.
If the sole intention here was to lift the contribution limits for Leader Durkin they chose the more expensive of two available routes. The caps can be lifted either due to independent expenditure spending or self funding, Leader Durkin could have loaned his campaign $100,000 and then paid it back the very next day and those actions would have been sufficient to lift the caps in this race. However in this instance Turnaround Illinois spent $100,000 on radio ads supporting Leader Durkin, who is unopposed, so that $100,000 spent will likely have very little ancillary benefit.
This may be the most direct example to circumvent the contribution limits so far but it’s probably not the strangest. In the 2015 Chicago Mayor’s race William Kelly loaned himself $100,000 and filed a Notification of Self Funding which lifted the caps for the Mayor’s race, but then he never even filed the paperwork to run for Mayor so the caps were lifted for a race he didn’t even officially participate in.
If the contribution limits are lifted for Leader Durkin’s campaign committee his would be the only one of the four legislative leaders’ campaign committees that can raise unlimited funds, but this isn’t the first time that has happened either. During the 2016 Democratic primary Speaker Madigan had three opponents for his 22nd district House seat. Former 2004 Democratic US Senate candidate Blair Hull and some of his wealthy allies funded an IE committee Illinois United for Change and that committee eventually made more than $100,000 in independent expenditures opposing Mike Madigan or supporting Jason Gonzales (their preferred candidate) and for the final two weeks of the primary Speaker Madigan’s campaign committee, Friends of Michael J. Madigan, was legally allowed to accept unlimited contributions. The odd thing is that during those two weeks the Speaker did not receive any contributions that were above the standard contribution limits.
Update: The contribution limits for Leader Durkin have been officially lifted.