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Editorial: Don’t rush to lift campaign donation limits now

Illinois Rep. BarbarFlynn Currie (D-Chicago)  |  Seth Perlman~AP

Illinois Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:09PM

Limits on campaign donations in Illinois have been around just 17 months. Nevertheless, a change that could seriously undermine the very notion of campaign limits is on the table in Springfield.

We join several good-government groups who say a proposal to lift donation limits in some campaigns is hasty and premature and should be tabled for now. Under an amendment pushed by House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, if an independent expenditure committee — those notorious SuperPACs — raises a significant amount in an election, that would trigger the lifting of all limits on political contributions. The trigger would be $250,000 in a statewide race; $100,000 for state legislator and other non-statewide races.

Opponents of the amendment, including the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Change Illinois, recognize the very real problems created by the rise of SuperPACs, problems that emerged after Illinois reformed its campaign laws in 2009.

With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and a companion decision in Illinois in March, the threat of SuperPACs spending hijacking an election is very real.

“You can’t leave a candidate running with his or her arm tied behind his or her back when you have an expenditure in that amount,” Currie said. The limit change would go into effect July 1, before the fall election.

Currie may be right — but there also may be less harmful solutions to the SuperPAC problem. Those should be explored first, by a task force set up by the legislature for that purpose, before a bill is passed. Currie, to her credit, has agreed to change the amendment slightly to help better identify and stop SuperPACs that aren’t truly independent of the candidates they support.

But Currie’s changes aren’t enough. She told us, and we agree, that time is too short to carefully define what constitutes an independent committee before the legislative session ends May 31. She’s open to continuing that work this summer but wants to get started by passing her amendment now.

We think her timetable is backward. The legislature should do the hard work upfront.

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