Federal judge strikes down portions of Illinois election law

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] Tuesday struck down two recently-enacted parts of the Illinois Election Code [text] designed to cap campaign contributions. Judge Marvin Aspen issued an injunction [order, PDF] against the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE) [official website] from enforcing § 5/9-8.5(d) prohibiting any political action committee (PAC) from accepting individual contributions over $10,000 and § 5/9-2(d) prohibiting any person from maintaining or establishing more than one PAC. The non-profit, pro-choice organization Personal PAC [advocacy website] brought the lawsuit [complaint, PDF] against the ISBE last month, seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against the two provisions so the abortion rights group could create an independent-expenditure PAC and take unlimited contributions. The court agreed that together the election code sections violate the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] under the US Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], finding that government interest in preventing corruption cannot justify restriction on independent expenditures, and the Seventh Circuit's ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Barland [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], finding no valid government interest sufficient to impose restrictions on contributions to independent-expenditure-only PACs such as Personal PAC. In his opinion Aspen stressed his ruling is a narrow one, applicable only to restrictions on independent expenditures—money used to advocate for or against a specific candidate without coordination with any public official, candidate, or political party—and that the lawsuit did not contest restrictions on contributions made directly to political candidates.

Illinois campaign contribution restrictions were passed in 2009 as part of election reform efforts following the indictment of former governor Rod Blagojevich [personal website; JURIST news archive], who was arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008 on corruption charges including allegations that he conspired to sell the Senate seat left vacant by US President Barack Obama. Blagojevich was convicted in June on 18 counts of corruption. He was previously found guilty of making false statements to the FBI [JURIST report], but the jury in that trial remained deadlocked on the 23 other charges. The prosecutors dropped some of the charges [JURIST report] to simplify the case for retrial, including some for racketeering. The Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office in January 2009.

 

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