Campaign Finance

3 posts

Enhanced Disclosure as a Response to Increasing Out-of-State Spending in State and Local Elections

By Tyler Roberts

Over the past several years, states and localities have experienced increasing amounts of election spending flowing in from out of state. A number of states passed statutes limiting the amount candidates may accept from out-of-state donors, but most of these statutes have been struck down by lower courts. The Supreme Court’s steady emphasis on the value of political speech — regardless of the source — makes it doubtful that the Court will overturn these decisions and permit states to limit contributions from out of state. This Note suggests that states enact disclosure requirements that require aggregate disclosure from out-of-state groups at the time of advertising. These disclosure requirements are likely constitutional and are also effective at informing voters about the sources of political speech.

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The Illinois Millionaire’s Exemption and the Utility of Campaign Contribution Limits

By Nora Huppert

Illinois‘ 2014 and 2018 Gubernatorial elections raised eyebrows and drew national media attention for the astronomical amounts of money raised by the candidates in the form of direct campaign contributions, often from individual wealthy backers. These extreme campaign contributions, which in many states are strictly limited, were made possible in Illinois by operation of a unique campaign finance scheme enacted only a few years earlier. This law, meant to emulate the federal “Millionaire‘s Exemption” (or “Millionaire’s Amendment”) which had previously been held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, lifts contribution limits completely in a given race once certain conditions are met. This was intended to level the playing field by allowing “underdog” candidates facing opponents backed by wealthy interests to raise a little more money from their supporters. In these Gubernatorial elections, however, the main beneficiaries of the law were exactly those candidates who were empowered to raise many millions from individual wealthy donors.

In the aftermath of these elections, commentators began to ask whether the Illinois law was “backfiring” by simply allowing wealth-backed candidates to raise even more money from wealthy supporters. As such, this Note examines campaign finance data in recent statewide and legislative elections in Illinois in which contribution limits were lifted to analyze whether the law operated as intended. Part II explains the constitutional backdrop against which the Illinois law was enacted and the relevant scholarly and legal views on the utility of campaign contribution limits in a universe in which independent spending cannot be meaningfully regulated. Part III estimates how much the law allowed candidates in recent statewide and legislative races to raise above campaign contribution limits and analyzes the real-world effect of the law. Part IV concludes that the limits-off law fails to serve its intended purpose in practice and that its benefits are outweighed by its “floodgates” effect on select big-money races; Part IV also proposes pathways for reform that might realign campaign finance law in Illinois with the limits-off law‘s admirable rationale.

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Facing the Coordination Reality: Removing Individual and Party Limits on Contributions to Presidential Campaigns

By Zachary Morrison

Since Citizens United, a new era of campaigning has emerged in which traditional campaign functions have been outsourced to candidate-centric outside groups. In the 2016 presidential election, ten campaigns had raised less money than their allied Super PACs and other outside groups. Federal election regulations that restrict coordination between these outside groups and campaigns are outdated and poorly enforced. American democracy is weakened by this unprecedented electoral activity because of decreased donor transparency, increased negativity without accountability, and voter confusion.

This Note concludes, after examining outside group political activity in the 2012 and 2016 presidential cycles, that candidate-centric outside groups create the same risk of corruption as direct contributions to campaigns. Therefore, this Note proposes that proponents of stricter campaign finance regulation should consider removing limits on individual and political party contributions to presidential campaigns. Allowing individuals and parties to provide unlimited funds to campaigns would diminish the appeal of outside groups and increase the political pressure on campaigns to disavow their use. This realistic, if not pessimistic, proposal offers a simple legislative solution to some of the concerning elements of an increased reliance on outside groups, while leaving the possibility for a different Supreme Court to permit radical change.

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