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Court strikes down Illinois PAC contribution limit

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SPRINGFIELD — A federal court Tuesday overturned part of Illinois' recently passed election finance law, just a week ahead of the state's primary election.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — A federal court Tuesday overturned part of Illinois' recently passed election finance law, just a week ahead of the state's primary election.

U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen struck down a 2009 law that limited how much an individual can donate to a political action committee, or a PAC, which spends money in an election but doesn't coordinate with a candidate.

The "Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit speak clearly: the First Amendment prohibits governments from limiting contributions to independent-expenditure-only PAC(s)," Aspen wrote in his opinion.

Personal PAC, a pro-choice lobbying group, initiated the case when it sued the Illinois State Board of Elections over the limits in early February.

Unlike PACs that spend money to influence how a lawmaker might vote by donating directly to their war chest, Personal PAC spends most of its money to get pro-choice candidates elected through advertising blitzes.

Personal PAC claimed they missed out on $100,000 in donations for 2011 because of the state's law.

Until 2011, Illinois had no limits on campaign contributions.

The part of the state's campaign finance law struck down was first passed in 2009, before the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case, upon which Personal PAC is basing its lawsuit.

In the Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that as long as a group was not coordinating with a candidate, it could spend an unlimited amount on campaigning for a candidate, or an issue.

"Illinois law was passed before Citizens United, we understand that, but it was time for a change, and today's ruling proved that," Terry Cosgrove, president of Personal PAC, said.

The next week is a critical time for campaigns in Illinois as voters prepare to go to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in party primary contests. Candidates and PACs will be spending money on last-minute advertising throughout the state.

Cosgrove said he and his group started working to take advantage of the lack of contribution limits as soon as the ruling came down.

The Illinois Attorney General's office defended the Illinois State Board of Elections in the case. Scott Mulford, a spokesman for the Attorney General, said the ruling is under review.

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