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Local Editorials

Our view: Reducing money's influence in politics

There’s no doubt that money influences politics – in big ways.

Big money influences politics in even bigger ways, sometimes leading to corruption.

That’s why there are federal caps on the amount of money someone can donate to a single candidate – now $2,600 for U.S. president or members of Congress.

But limiting the overall amount of money an individual can donate in a given year to multiple candidates, political parties and political action committees is an infringement on Americans’ First Amendment rights, whether we like the role money plays in politics or not.

That’s why we agree with the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that strikes down federal limits on the overall campaign contributions an individual donor can make each election cycle.

If someone wants to donate the individual limit of $2,600 to all Democrats or all Republicans running for Congress in a given year, they should be allowed to do so without worrying about an overall cap, which had been set at $123,200 until last week’s ruling.

While we are worried about how those with big pockets can influence policy in Washington D.C., Springfield, or even locally, we think there’s a better way to reduce that influence than curbing individual freedoms – term limits.

While not perfect themselves, term limits weed out those politicians who make careers off accepting money from lobbyists and voting accordingly, at the expense of their constituents best interests. Because longtime incumbents are able to amass campaign war chests that they can use to fend off potential challengers, term limits also help to even the playing field somewhat for new candidates.

In Illinois, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan is the poster child for term limits. A member of the state House since 1971, he has been Speaker for all but two years since 1983. The vast majority of Illinoisans have not been able to cast a single vote either for or against Madigan, yet he holds the real power in Springfield.

Given where this state is financially, most Illinoisans, we suspect, would be in favor of his reign coming to an end.

There’s also plenty of precedent for term limits in the U.S. The 22nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution limits an American president to two elected terms in office, or just one elected term if the president fills at least two years of another elected president’s term. Thirty-six states have term limits for governor, and 15 states have term limits for their legislative branches.

Bruce Rauner, Republican candidate for Illinois governor, and the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits are gathering signatures in an attempt to get a term limit amendment on the November ballot. We support efforts to give Illinois voters a say, and we’d support a similar effort nationally for members of Congress.

We’ll never fully be able to eliminate money’s influence on our elected officials, but term limits are a better option than curbing First Amendment rights.

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