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About That Election Code Omnibus Bill

On Saturday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a new election code bill into law. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform takes a look.

The bill, over 200 pages long, contains over two dozen separate provisions. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform supported some of these and had concerns about others. As a result of this conflict, ICPR did not take a single, comprehensive position on the passage of the bill.

Nonetheless, we commend the legislature and Gov. Quinn for enacting positive of the bill's provisions, including:

Online Voter Registration: Beginning July 1, 2014 (after the March primary but before the General Election), Illinoisans will be able to register to vote through a website maintained by the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Voter registration will still require the presentation of two valid forms of identification, and the online registration site will work only for Illinoisans who have identification accessible to the State Board via the Secretary of State in electronic format.

The law will also allow voters to request mail-in ballots electronically.

This new tool will help Illinoisans who are not currently registered to make themselves eligible for balloting, and will facilitate balloting by voters who travel or are otherwise unable to vote either at their polling place on election day or at early voting locations.

Provisional Ballot Reforms: Beginning with the March 2014 primary election, properly registered voters who cast provisional ballots in the correct election jurisdiction but in the wrong precinct will have their ballots counted for those offices and ballot questions that were on both the ballot they voted and the ballot they would have voted had they been in the proper precinct. This will help to address voter confusion, particularly when polling places move to new locations and when polling places contain multiple precincts.


Provisions of the bill to which ICPR objects include:

SuperPAC Spending: The bill removes contribution limits in races where multiple SuperPACs combine to spend above $250,000 in a statewide race or $100,000 in any other race.

Current law removes limits when a single SuperPAC or natural person make independent expenditures above those thresholds; the bill removes limits even when SuperPACs that are not coordinating with each other make separate expenditures above those limits.

In the 2012 General Election, the old law removed limits in one state Senate race; the new law would have removed limits in three more Senate races. The legislature should be working to regulate the role of large contributors in Illinois elections, not creating opportunities for large contributors.

Signature Requirements for Chicago Aldermanic Candidates: The bill doubles the number of signatures required for candidates for Chicago alderman, from 2% of the votes cast in the last election to 4%. The legislature should encourage citizens to participate in elections as legitimate candidates, not make it more difficult.


ICPR is also concerned that the Omnibus Bill failed to address several weaknesses in current law, particularly relating to the risk of corruption from SuperPACs, committees that claim to be independent of candidates and as a result of that claim are exempt from contribution limits. Legislation to address these problems was filed in both chambers but was not acted upon nor included in the Omnibus. Unaddressed problems in current law include:

Lack of disclosure from politically active non-profits: A dangerous practice that has emerged with the arrival of SuperPACs is the raising of money through a non-profit that is exempt from disclosure and then transferring that money to a SuperPAC.

The SuperPAC will then, in accord with Illinois law, report that the money came from the non-profit, but the non-profit never has to publicly acknowledge the source of its funds.

Illinois once required disclosure from politically active non-profits but repealed the requirement when limits were enacted, on the theory that no one would go to that much trouble to hide the maximum contribution allowed by a non-profit ($10,000 at the time, today adjusted for inflation to $10,600).

ICPR found several SuperPACS in the 2012 elections that each reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from related non-profits.

Now that non-profits can hide considerably more than $10,000, ICPR believes that restoring non-profit disclosure is essential.

The new Omnibus bill does not address this matter.

Instituting meaningful penalties for SuperPAC non-compliance: In early October during the 2012 general election, the Republican State Leadership Committee spent more than $200,000 on television ads, to air throughout the election, critical of one sitting member of the state House. In violation of Illinois law, this spending was not disclosed until January, 2013, long after the balloting was over. Consequently, the RSLC was assessed a fine. By current law, the fine was just $500. It should be clear that a fine of $500 for not disclosing more than $200,000 is insufficient.

In addition, because it was the RSLC's first violation of Illinois' election code, that fine was stayed and need not be paid as long as the RSLC does not commit another violation in the next two years. ICPR is concerned that the fine schedule is not strong enough to deter violations. The new Omnibus bill does not address this matter.

Requiring disaggregation of expenditures made in respect to multiple races or candidates: In the 2012 General Election, several SuperPACs reported single expenditures that covered multiple races (e.g., they reported spending $20,000 on mailings critical of four House candidates and three Senate candidates in different, sometimes overlapping, districts). From these records, it is difficult to determine how much the SuperPAC actually spent in each particular race. Since the new law now removes limits when multiple SuperPACs, acting without coordination, spend above the threshold, it is all the more important to determine precisely how much each group spent in each race. The new Omnibus bill does not address this matter.


Despite these concerns, ICPR believes that everyone who is eligible to vote in elections should be encouraged to do so. ICPR also believes that every eligible voter deserves to have her or his ballot counted. ICPR fully and heartily supports the provisions of this bill that facilitate voter registration and the counting of provisional ballots cast by eligible voters in the wrong precinct, and we commend Gov. Quinn and the legislature for enacting these improvements to Illinois law.


Comments welcome.


Posted on July 29, 2013

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