Illinois Senate Takes Bipartisan Step to Lessen Influence of Big Money in Elections

The Illinois Senate voted 31-23 in a bipartisan vote to lessen the influence of big money in Illinois elections by passing Senate Bill 1424. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Biss and championed by good government groups Fair Elections Illinois, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and Illinois Public Interest Research Group, would create a small donor matching system, wherein candidates would be eligible to receive public matching funds for small contributions by voluntarily agreeing to forgo big money and corporate contributions. A similar system has existed in New York City for decades and has been adopted by other jurisdictions in recent years.
“After Citizens United, there is little we can do to limit candidates funding their campaigns by relying on a small number of mega-donors” said Illinois PIRG Director Abraham Scarr. “However, we can level the playing field by raising the voices of ordinary Americans through small donor matching programs. Small donor matching programs allow candidates who have broad support from voters but don’t have access to, or choose not to curry favor with, big money to compete and win against big money candidates.”
Public opinion polls consistently find that voters of all political backgrounds want to reduce the influence of big money in politics. Seventeen states have passed resolutions urging congress to take action to amend the constitution to overturn Citizens United, including Illinois where it passed with bi-partisan support. Amending the constitution is a long and difficult process, and small donor programs allow cities and states to act now to lessen the influence of big money in elections.
There are successful, proven models to empower small donors so that their voices play a more central role in our democracy. For example, in New York City’s 2013 city council campaigns, small donors were responsible for 61% of participating candidates’ contributions when funds from a matching program are included. All but two of the winning candidates participated in the program, showing that candidates are able to raise the money they need to win without looking for large-dollar contributions. 
Voters in Chicago voted overwhelmingly in 2015 to support a small donor matching program in city elections. Illinois PIRG Education Fund released reports in 2015 documenting the influence of big money on the aldermanic and mayoral elections.
SB1424 now moves to the Illinois House where Representative Cassidy will be the Chief Sponsor.