Skip Navigation

Report Finds Finds Illinois Campaign Finance Laws Worst in the Midwest

Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released a new report finding that Illinoiss campaign finance system is broken and badly in need of reform.

February 22, 2007

For Immediate Release
Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jaclyn Kessel, (646) 452–5637 (o)

Report from NYUs Brennan Center Finds Illinois Campaign Finance Laws Worst in the Midwest

National Think Tank Urges Contribution Limits, Public Financing, Better Enforcement and Disclosure To End Pay-to-Play Culture

New York Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released a new report finding that Illinoiss campaign finance system is broken and badly in need of reform.

The report, Campaign Finance in Illinois, is the second of five studies of campaign finance systems in the Midwest to be released by the Brennan Center.  The study finds that an absence of any campaign contribution limits or public financing, limited disclosure, and poor enforcement of existing campaign finance laws are pushing campaign costs through the roof and fueling a pay-to-play culture that threatens to undermine public confidence in state and local government.

Illinois has long been proud of its brass-knuckles, results-oriented political culture. Reform for its own sake has never been a fashion. Yet a look at Illinoiss campaign finance laws, in the context of the rest of the Midwest and the rest of the country, is sobering, said Suzanne Novak, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center and the lead author of the report.

Illinois is one of the only places in America where literally anyone can walk in the door and spend whatever they want to influence the outcome of an election. The system is almost an open invitation to corruption, said Novak.

The report finds that Illinois has the weakest campaign finance laws in the five major states of the Midwest.

Alone among major Midwestern states, Illinois places no restrictions on campaign contributions, allowing unlimited donations from any source.

Disclosure laws, supposedly the bulwark against corruption instead of contribution limits, are easily evaded.

The State Board of Elections has been hamstrung by partisan gridlock and has failed to enforce the law. Wary of conducting investigations and resolving cases that could have political ramifications, the Board has signaled that campaign finance laws can be evaded without repercussion.

The report also finds that Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that has no public campaign finance system of any kind. Under a public financing system candidates agree to limit campaign spending in exchange for campaign financing provided by the state either through matching funds or an outright grant. 

Illinois has chosen to forgo almost any regulation of campaign money in the hope that full disclosure will create enough incentive for politicians and special interests to avoid ethical impropriety. Unfortunately, the disclosure system is so riddled with loopholes that tens of thousands of dollars can move from lobbyists to politicians without attracting any public notice, continued Novak.

Novak noted that non-profits in Illinois (often the recipients of grants or aid from state government) can donate unlimited amounts of money to political parties and political committees without any disclosure robbing the public of any meaningful opportunity to understand the links between organizations and the politicians that keep them in business.

Local advocates welcomed the Brennan Centers report and urged the Governor and Legislature to act on its recommendations.

This report makes clear that Illinoiss campaign finance system needs immediate reform. Hopefully the Governor and the legislature will look to the suggestions of Illinoiss own Senator Dick Durbin, and embrace real reform this year, said Cindi Canary, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. 

Illinois voters deserve the chance to elect people who arent beholden to lobbyists and big money, Canary said. This report provides a clear-headed analysis of the problem and a solid foundation for reforms that will level the playing field and give regular people a fair shot at being heard in Springfield.