Illinois bill would finance judicial campaigns

St. Louis Post Dispatch
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A reform plan that could drastically change the way some judges are elected in Illinois is expected to be introduced in the state Senate today.
The measure would create a public financing system with political donation limits, potentially staving off races like the recent brutal judicial elections in downstate Illinois, proponents say. Both the 2004 state Supreme Court race and the 2006 appellate court contest in the 5th District set statewide, if not national, records for campaign spending at their respective levels.

Advocates of campaign finance reform have tried for years to tackle Illinois' sky-is-the-limit system of contributions. The issue is particularly familiar to Metro East voters as they've watched political arms races dominate the air waves.
The new bill, sponsored by state Sens. Kirk Dillard, R-Westmont, and Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, would use court fees and voluntary donations from taxpayers to fund candidates for the state Supreme and appellate courts. Coupled with
such a system would be federal-style campaign contribution limits in those races; donations would be limited to $2,000 from corporation, labor organization and political committees or individuals per candidate during an election cycle.

Advocates of the system say it would help eliminate the possibility that judges become beholden to campaign contributors - typically lawyers and labor for Democrats and businesses and insurers for Republicans.
"There are a lot of special-interest players who are actively involved in these elections and actively interested in the outcomes of these elections," said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the primary group behind the new bill. "This is a situation that's spiraling out of control."

Some groups have decried the influence of corporate dollars in judicial elections.
Katina Cummings, staff director for the Center for Justice and Democracy in Chicago, a consumer group opposed to tort reform, said Tuesday, "Any proposal or piece of legislation that gets dirty corporate money out of campaigns for judicial races is a great thing."

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