SPRINGFIELD – Illinois super PACs are bringing more than $1 million to this fall’s legislative campaign, but the meaning and influence of that money remains uncertain.
While the unexpected campaign finance phenomenon puts a new wrinkle in the Nov. 6 election, the sum is dwarfed by the $6.8 million held in political accounts of the two major state parties and the four legislative leaders, according to disclosure reports filed this week.
Illinois has 10 super PACs – six formed this month – that arose from court rulings that allowed corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals to raise and spend unlimited money if they don’t affiliate with a candidate. Five have raised serious money, including $288,000 by Personal PAC, the abortion-rights advocate that won a federal lawsuit allowing such “independent expenditure” committees in Illinois.
That money is just starting to trickle out three weeks before Election Day, but in politics, a lot can happen in a short time – particularly in relatively small legislative districts in swing parts of the state.
“You throw an extra $1 million into the bank for some of these House races and it can have a huge impact,” said David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which supports tighter controls on super PACs because there are no restrictions on their checkbooks and do not have to identify their donors.
Another expert predicted that while they have a limited role this year, super PACs will figure heavily in the 2014 race for governor.
Other super PAC players are The JOBS PAC, with $312,500, including $200,000 from the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association; the Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Washington, D.C., with $294,000; the National Association of Realtors Fund with $215,000; and the Republican-leaning, Washington-based GOPAC Illinois Legislative Fund at $75,000.
Campaign finance reports this week showed that House and Senate Democrats’ political funds spent $4.6 million from July through September and still have $5.5 million on hand. Republican counterparts shelled out $3.6 million in the last quarter and had $1.3 million in the bank.
Republicans need to win six seats in both the House and Senate to take majority control, but they’re facing a legislative-district map drawn by Democrats. And even friendly super PACs can’t make up the monetary difference statewide.
But it could in individual races. The Realtors gave $50,000 worth of campaign literature and phone calls to Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano, an Elmwood Park Republican and 20-year incumbent who is in a tight race with Addison school board member Kathleen Willis. In another example, the only payouts thus far from the Republican State Leadership Committee totaled $11,500 in mailings and postage opposing Rep. Daniel Beiser, an Alton Democrat in a traditionally Democratic part of the state the GOP views as winnable.
A licensed real estate broker, Saviano said the Realtors’ offer was welcome in a campaign against Willis, who has been heavily financed by committees controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, including $61,000 earlier this month.
“It’s crunch time, and we’re trying to match Madigan mailer-by-mailer,” Saviano said.
Without the assistance, Saviano said he would not be able to “compete with the Goliaths.”
“It does balance the scales when I’m running against somebody who is very well supported by one of the leaders, who have pretty much unlimited access to funds,” Saviano said. “Thank God for that.”
It’s hard to say whether super PAC receipts represent new money or dollars that would have otherwise gone straight to political parties or candidates. A contributor might be more willing to give money to the Realtors if he’s a member of the organization, for example, as opposed to contributing to a political candidate. But he also might be more willing to give to a super PAC because he can do so anonymously.
“If it’s new money, it makes a difference,” said Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “If it’s just money that would have gone to say, Cross, and now it’s being spent independently, it probably doesn’t.”
Redfield predicted the super PACs are “just learning the system” and won’t play a significant role until the 2014 gubernatorial race.