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The Influence of Outside Money in Illinois Elections

PHOTO: Five years after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, some say outside money is pouring into political campaigns in Illinois and other states. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/morguefile.
PHOTO: Five years after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, some say outside money is pouring into political campaigns in Illinois and other states. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/morguefile.
January 21, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - It's been five years since the Supreme Court's decision in the "Citizens United" case paved the way for unlimited corporate spending in elections. The court ruled that restricting campaign spending by outside groups is unconstitutional because it hinders their freedom of speech.

Brian Gladstein, director of programs and strategy for Common Cause Illinois, said the decision has had a lingering impact on politics in the state.

"We've seen a definite increase in super-PACs and the amounts of money being spent on independent expenditures," he said. "We just experienced one of the most expensive races for governor - and now we have a governor that is self-funded."

Political campaign spending from undisclosed sources topped $170 million in 2014, Gladstein said.

Illinois is one of more than a dozen states that passed resolutions calling for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. Today, demonstrations and educational forums are being held in Illinois and around the nation to mark the anniversary of the ruling.

Gladstein said he's convinced that more people are realizing the ways "corporate personhood" can mute the voices of ordinary citizens. He said he believes when more communities work together and speak up, change can happen.

"Most people now that we talk to do understand these issues," he said, "and are concerned about big special interests having influence on elections and - more importantly - on public policy."

A new, national report from Common Cause claims that unfettered special interest spending is blocking progress on five issues important to the American people - the minimum wage, gun control, climate change, student loans and net neutrality. The report is online at commoncause.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL