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Biss would lower political donation caps

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State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) has introduced legislation that would dramatically reduce caps on individual contributions to political campaigns while providing state matching funds for small contributions.

Senate Bill 1424, dubbed the “Small Donor Democracy Matching System for Fair Elections Act,” would reduce the ceiling on contributions from an individual to a single campaign from $5,600 to $500.

The legislation would establish a small donor matching system for statewide races in Illinois, including governor, attorney general, comptroller, treasurer, secretary of state, as well as for contests for state senators and state representatives.

Contributions between $25 and $150 from local donors would be matched 6:1 by public funds. But limits would be set on the amount of public funds available to each candidate.

“This is about who decides,” Biss said. “Life is getting harder for more and more Americans every day because people who are already doing well have all the power in government – powerful people who are shamefully out of touch with the people they represent.

“We’re only going to fix this problem if we weaken the connection between money and political power and make it easier for small donors’ voices to be heard.”

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which supports the proposal, estimates the cost of the matching program at about $13 million a year — or a dollar for each resident of the state.

“It’s time for Illinois to step up to the plate and implement this long-overdue reform, which would ensure that the voices of local donors are amplified in Illinois elections,” David Melton, ICPR senior advisor said. “Everyone should have an opportunity to run for office and participate in the political process, not just the 1 percent of wealthy donors and candidates.”

Jay Young, political director for Common Cause Illinois, said Illinois witnessed unprecedented campaign spending in 2016, including nine statehouse races that exceeded $2 million in contributions and a comptroller’s race that soared past the $12 million mark.

“The voices of ordinary citizens in this state are being drowned out right now by the unlimited spending of wealthy political donors,” Young said. “We believe that proposals like the one Senator Biss has put forward will allow the people to take back their democracy from these powerful special interest groups.”

Given U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have barred restrictions on independent political spending and caps on total campaign contributions by individuals, it’s not clear whether the Biss plan would actually reduce political spending or simply shift the flow of money to different channels.

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