Campaign contributions by outsiders and so-called black money groups will be banned in Illinois court campaigns from January under legislation that Governor JB Pritzker signed into law on Monday.
Several states have enacted laws requiring disclosure of funders to nonprofit organizations, including welfare groups [501(c)4s], unions [501(c)5s] and industry trade groups [501(c)6s], 501 (c) 4s, 5s and 6’s – whose political spending is referred to as âblack money,â because these groups are not required to make their donors public.
But Illinois’ new law takes a different tack, prohibiting judicial candidates from receiving campaign contributions from any entity that does not disclose its backers.
The measure’s sponsor, State Representative Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville), said the ban had been in place for some time, especially as leaders in the legal community and academics turned are gradually worried about undue influence during judicial elections.
“I don’t think the danger of black money can be [over]said, âStuart said Monday. “[The judiciary is] where the legislation that we [legislators] eventually pass is sometimes tested. And the thought that there is black money influencing someone, again, who has been a sitting judge for 10 years – that’s pretty terrifying. “
The provision prohibiting judicial candidates from accepting political funds from certain nonprofits has been incorporated into the larger election-focused measure Democrats passed by the General Assembly last month. The new law also includes the ability for voters to change their voter registration gender identification to non-binary after the 2022 election cycle and also establishes a task force to review Illinois election laws to recommend a improved accessibility for voters with disabilities.
But making Illinois the first state to outright ban certain political contributions from presidential candidates is the biggest change in the law, which comes a year after an Illinois Supreme Court judge elected for the first time as a Democrat became the first sitting high court member in state history to lose his retention offer – an expensive race fueled in part by black money.
Republicans voted against Stuart’s legislation last month, with several members arguing during the House debate that the majority party was making another adjustment to the state’s election law to benefit their party.
“It’s another effort for the majority [party] to change the rules of the game because they don’t like the outcome, âsaid state representative Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) before voting no on the bill. âAnd voters in the state of Illinois are noticing that the policies, practices and elected officials they have put in power have not served them well. “
Spain also referred to another change Democrats made to the Illinois justice system earlier this year when the majority party redesigned the five judicial districts of the Illinois Supreme Court for the first time in nearly 60 years while engaging in the usual once-per-decade legislative redistribution of political boundaries for legislative constituencies and Congress.
The defeat of former judge Thomas Kilbride in his second retention race last November set up a fight for partisan control of the court in 2022, as newcomers vie for its former seat in the Third District of the tribunal and that three other members of the High Court are candidates for election.
Black money groups can raise unlimited funds from donors and spend unlimited amounts on independent expenses: political communication – i.e. television commercials or other paid media – advocating for the election of a candidate or his defeat. The Judicial Fairness Project, for example, is the 501 (c) 4 that prompted Kilbride’s ouster from the Illinois Supreme Court. This group donated $ 200,000 to its related political action committee, which in turn attracted an additional $ 350,000 from another black money group called the Illinois Opportunity Project.
But the largest contributions to the anti-Kilbride PAC, Citizens for Judicial Fairness, came from donors who weren’t afraid to be named: wealthy conservative political backers Ken Griffin and Richard Uihlein, who gave 4.5 million respectively. of dollars and 1 million dollars.
Black money groups can also donate to individual candidates, although they are limited to $ 59,000 in a single election cycle. But Illinois’ new law will prohibit court applicants from accepting money from nonprofits that do not disclose their donors – a voluntary move some groups have made in the past, including Think Big Illinois. 501 (c) 4 from Pritzker, who funded the governor’s failed bid. for a progressive income tax in the November 2020 ballot. Other black money groups have worked to defeat the measure.
Black money spending on elections – especially by conservative 501 (c) 4 groups – exploded after the landmark 2010 United States Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, which found that a federal law on campaign finance limiting independent spending violated the First Amendment. According to analysis by campaign finance watchdog Open Secrets, however, black money spending in the federal election has calmed down considerably since the post-Citizens United peak in 2012.
But this analysis of federal spending does not take into account judicial elections, as judges at the federal level are appointed, unlike the 22 states which have partisan and non-partisan judicial elections for at least some judicial systems. And experts have expressed concern over the growing involvement of black money in judicial elections, especially for state supreme courts.
In her 2013 review of 2,345 Supreme Court rulings from all 50 states in business-related cases, Emory University Law School Associate Joanna Shepherd analyzed the opinions of the High Court as well as over 175,000 campaign contributions, which revealed a growing relationship between business interests’ campaign contributions and the decisions of state Supreme Court justices.
âThe more contributions commercial interests judges receive to the campaign, the more likely they are to vote for commercial litigants who appear before them in court,â Shepherd wrote.
The trend worries Stuart.
âI cannot pass a law on my own,â she said. âI have to win the votesâ¦ of my fellow legislators, where the judge is a person who makes a decision. Soâ¦ the mere thought that someone could be so easily persuaded is scary.
Republicans expressed concern that Stuart’s legislation was unconstitutional against Citizens United, but Stuart cited three cases in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that presidential candidates should be viewed differently from others. politicians and further concluded that excessive contributions to the judicial campaign could violate due process in a case involving the downstream donor.
Two of those cases were decided before the 2010 ruling in Citizens United, but in 2015 the court upheld a Florida law prohibiting judicial candidates from directly soliciting campaign contributions – a ban shared by Illinois and 28 other states, aimed at maintaining the impartiality of the judiciary.
âJudicial candidates have the right to speak on the First Amendment to support their campaigns. States have a compelling interest in preserving public confidence in their justice systems, âwrote Chief Justice John Roberts on behalf of the majority. âWhen the state adopts a narrowly tailored restriction like the one at issue here, these principles are not in conflict. A state’s decision to elect judges does not oblige it to compromise public confidence in its integrity.
When asked if she expected the new black money ban in Illinois court campaigns to prompt a lawsuit challenging it, Stuart said she couldn’t predict the future. .