>Government and Policy Affairs Coordinator, Emily Miller, presented testimony before the final Public Finance and Campaign Elections Taskforce. The Taskforce was established to examine reforms to the way political campaigns are financed in Illinois. The Taskforce will deliver its final advisory report December 31, 2011. Contact Emily Miller through email or at 312-821-9034. You can follow her on Twitter @EJMill.

Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force Hearing

December 15, 2011

In 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, the United States Supreme Court acknowledged that in a system of privately financed elections, candidates lacking immense personal wealth must rely on campaign contributions of considerable amounts to successfully communicate their message to voters. And those campaign contributions, the court found, are the aspect of political association where the actuality and potential for corruption have been identified.

The court ruled that the government has an interest in preventing both corruption and the appearance of corruption, and it can restrict the role of large campaign contributions to that end (with the caveat that prevention is weighed against the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression.)

Given that large campaign contributions in privately financed election systems are linked to both corruption and the appearance of corruption, reducing the role that large campaign contributions play in elections will reduce the influence big money has over the political process.

In Illinois, we have an embarrassing history of political corruption stemming from the need to raise large amounts of campaign cash in order to compete in the political game. Quid pro quo agreements that go far beyond usual “political horse-trading” are natural extensions of a privately financed campaign system where candidates must raise big bucks to be competitive in the political game. Trading government services, grants, appointments, jobs, etc for political campaign contributions means that corrupt politicians win and the public loses. The recent conviction and subsequent sentencing of Governor Blagojevich reminds us all that this kind of corruption can and will go all the way to the top of our government.

A good faith effort to reduce the impact large campaign contributions have over the political process will lead to a reduction of corruption and the appearance of corruption. That includes taking measures to limit campaign contributions from individuals, corporations, and political PACs, some of which have already been written into Illinois law.

But it also includes a real debate on the merits of public financing for campaigns—particularly in the judiciary where impartiality is key to the integrity of the office.

In the end, no law can prevent public corruption. Honesty, integrity and morality are not requirements for holding public office. But the state should take steps to make it as easy as possible for elected officials to avoid the conflicts of interest inherent in a privately financed election system.