Illinois Liberty PAC v. Madigan
About the Case
On July 24, 2012, Illinois Liberty PAC (ILP) filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois challenging the constitutionality of Illinois’ state contribution limits. The case is now on its second trip up to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Importance of Contribution Limits
This lawsuit is part of a larger legal strategy among campaign finance reform opponents to undermine all campaign finance laws. Illinois’ contribution limits, like those of the 44 other states that have similar controls, are designed to protect the integrity of the democratic process. Contribution limits are one of the last remaining tools states can use to protect the health of our democracy — because limiting direct contributions to candidates has always been upheld as a vital and constitutional way to prevent quid pro quo corruption and its appearance. Even the Roberts Court has recognized as much.
ILP’s arguments would threaten base contribution limits across the country, and the district court rightly rejected them.
Specifically, ILP challenged the $50,000 limit on contributions from political action committees to state candidates and the $5,000 limit on contributions from individuals to candidates, arguing that the law authorizes political parties and corporations to make far larger contributions than PACs and individuals, respectively, and therefore discriminates against PACs and individual donors. The district court refused to grant ILP a preliminary injunction against the law, and the appeals court affirmed that decision; the district court then upheld the limits after a trial.
Here, ILP is claiming that Illinois discriminates against individual donors and PACs by giving them lower limits than corporations and political parties. The Supreme Court has said that legislatures may consider how donations from different entities may corrupt elected officials, and create different contribution limits for each type of donor. ILP is attempting to sidestep or subvert these precedents so that individuals and PACs can donate more money to Illinois candidates and parties.
In addition to its First Amendment claim, ILP has challenged Illinois’ contribution limits under the Equal Protection Clause. This tactic, too, has become a trend among those hostile to campaign finance laws. A line of cases states that equal protection claims trigger strict scrutiny when they involve infringements of fundamental rights. ILP is bringing this claim to increase the level of scrutiny normally applied to contribution limits––something that courts have consistently said plaintiffs cannot do.
CLC has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case, along with the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Common Cause Illinois, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and League of Women Voters Illinois.