Super-PACS Making Their Presence Felt in Illinois Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 28 October 2012 10:31

Independent expenditures in state legislative races are closing in on the $2-million mark since July 1, with most of that spending coming in the month of October, Illinois State Board of Elections records show.

In March, a federal judge struck down Illinois’ law capping contributions to so-called state super-PACs. Since then, according to the State Board of Elections’ Web site, $1.8 million has been spent by groups on Illinois campaigns, and – as of late last week – $1.3 million of that has been spent in the month of October alone.

Super-PAC money is expected to increase exponentially in 2014, when the governorship and other statewide offices are up for election. So far, just 11 independent-expenditure committees have been formed, but more will surely come after this cycle ends.

Some of the top spenders have familiar names. The pro-choice Personal PAC, the Jobs PAC (formed by the Illinois Manufacturers Association), and the National Association of Realtors have all spent big bucks this month backing or opposing various candidates.

A new super-PAC called Liberty Principles PAC, formed by Republican activist Dan Proft, has reported spending $78,000 this past week, with more on the way. The group’s ads are targeting Senate and House candidates in the same districts. So, for instance, they’re running a TV ad blasting Senator Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline) and Representative Pat Verschoore (D-Milan) at the same time, as well as Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Democratic Senate candidate Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).

Personal PAC has so far been one of the biggest players in the Illinois super-PAC arms race. Its parent organization is a pro-choice behemoth that has long wielded major influence in Illinois politics. The group plays hardball. If a candidate refuses to fill out its questionnaire, which often happens with moderates in the middle or those who lean pro-life, Personal PAC labels the candidate pro-life without exception. And then the direct mail and the TV ads start to fly. It’s never a pretty sight, unless you like this sort of thing.

As of late last week, Personal PAC has reported spending more than $330,000 on independent expenditures. But it has plenty more cash available. The group ended the third quarter with almost $290,000 in the bank. Since the end of September, the group has raised about $400,000, half of that from two people.

According to the State Board of Elections’ Web site, Personal PAC is the only super-PAC that has spent more than $100,000 on a single race. Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill into law this year that removes all contribution caps once a super-PAC crosses that $100,000 threshold. So far, only Personal PAC has done so, with its $159,000 against Republican state Senate candidate Joe Neal of northern Lake County.

In comparison, the only “pro-life” super-PAC registered with the state has spent just $1,500 so far this month. The Pro-Life Victory Committee is backing a Republican state Senate candidate in the Quad Cities area. When it comes to the abortion issue, nobody has ever come close to Personal PAC’s dominance.

The Jobs PAC has outspent Personal PAC so far, dumping more than $400,000 into races just this month, according to State Board of Elections records. About half of that spending occurred just last week, with big bucks for and against five state Senate candidates. Most of the candidates the group is backing are Republicans, but they’ve spent a considerable amount of money to help Senator Jacobs.

The National Association of Realtors’ super-PAC has spent almost $200,000 this month. The group is focusing on four state legislative races, with its biggest spending ($50,000) coming on behalf of state Representative Skip Saviano (R-Elmwood Park). Saviano is in the fight of his political life right now against a heavily funded Democratic opponent.

Super-PACs are a relatively new phenomenon in Illinois politics. They haven’t yet dominated campaigns like they’re doing at the federal level, where their spending is dwarfing congressional candidates’ own cash. But as with any new political invention, you can bet that this cash will increase in the coming years. A few years ago, hardly anyone received robo-calls. Now, everybody in a contested district is being flooded with them. It’s the way of the beast.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.


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