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State Senate OKs easing campaign donation limits when SuperPACs weigh in

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate narrowly voted Thursday to roll back campaign contribution limits when so-called SuperPACs spend heavily in state and local elections.

Sponsored by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the bill passed by the slimmest of margins, getting the required 30 votes while 26 members voted “no” amid concerns it would circumvent state contribution laws passed in the wake of fund-raising scandals under former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.

If signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, the legislation would eliminate contribution limits in local races where independent organizations spend $100,000 or more and statewide races in which they spend $250,000 or more on behalf of candidates.

“Anyone who thinks we’re blowing a hole in the wall of campaign finance reform is misinformed,” Harmon said. “We’re trying to rebuild the wall.”

Sen. Dale Righter (R-Charleston) took exception to a number of parts of the bill, in addition to the idea that outside organizations could move the needle so significantly in elections.

“The third-party expenditures, we keep hearing from some, are the demon in this situation,” Righter said.

A government watchdog called on Quinn to veto the legislation.

“Gov. Quinn can and should veto this bill and protect the campaign finance system reforms he helped enact in 2009,” said Brian Gladstein, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “The governor signed the limits bill just a few years ago as part of what he called his ‘year of reform.’  If he signs this bill, a lot of the work he did during that year will be for naught.”

A gubernatorial spokeswoman would not divulge the governor’s thinking on the legislation, saying only that he planned to review it once it reached his desk.

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