Federal lawsuit challenges new limits on contributions to Illinois judicial candidates - Chicago Tribune

Federal lawsuit challenges new limits on contributions to Illinois judicial candidates – Chicago Tribune

This article by Dan Petrella was published August 3, 2022 on chicagotribune.org.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago by the conservative Liberty Justice Center on behalf of John Matthew Chancey, Fair Courts America and Restoration PAC, comes three months before Illinois voters will cast ballots in two state Supreme Court races that will determine whether Democrats maintain their 43 majority on the states highest court

Seeking to preserve Democratic control of all three branches of state government, Democrats in the legislature approved a measure last year that bars judicial candidates from receiving campaign cash from outofstate contributors and groups that don’t disclose their donors

This year, lawmakers approved another measure that bans contributions in excess of $500,000 per election cycle from a single source to independent expenditure committees set up to support or oppose judicial candidates.

In their lawsuit, Chancey and the PACs argue that both laws violate freespeech rights established in cases including the U.S. Supreme Courts landmark Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited political contributions

The Supreme Court has recognized that contributions to political campaigns are protected speech, and thus a government must prove that restrictions on campaign contributions pass First Amendment scrutiny,the lawsuit says. “Here, the two restrictions on contributions in judicial races cannot meet this test.”

The lawsuit, which names the Illinois State Board of Elections and Attorney General Kwame Raoul as defendants, asks the federal court to grant a preliminary injunction blocking the restrictions and to overturn them as unconstitutional

In arguing against the restrictions, the lawsuit says the state law unconstitutionally prohibits Chancey, who practiced law from 1978 until retiring in 2016, from contributing to friends and acquaintances running for seats on the bench

Likewise, Fair Courts America and Restoration PAC, which share a Downers Grove address and have the same committee treasurer, according to federal campaign finance records, argue that theyre being deprived of the ability to raise and spend more $500,000 supporting or opposing judicial candidates this year, which they contend violates the First Amendment

As of June 30, Restoration PAC had nearly $436,000 in the bank, while Fair Courts America had just under $30,000 on hand and outstanding debts of $272,000, all in loans from Restoration, according to Federal Election Commission records

Restoration PAC was founded by businessman Doug Traux, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination of U.S. Senate in 2014. 

While there is some legal precedent for tighter restrictions on campaign fundraising in judicial races, the lawsuit argues that the new Illinois law goes bevond the permissible steps to prevent corruntion and preserve the integrity of the courts

Outside of judicial races, state law allows independent expenditure committees to raise and spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing candidates, so long as they dont coordinate directly with any campaign.

Its obvious that Illinois politicians have passed laws trying to disenfranchise their opponents by restricting their political speech,Truax said in a statement. Thats unconstitutional and anti-American and both laws need to be struck down immediately.” 

State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, and a spokeswoman for the attorney generals office did not respond late Wednesday

The lawsuit comes after billionaire Ken Griffin gave $6.25 million to another independent expenditure committee, Citizens for Judicial Fairness, before the new law limiting individual contributions took effect in May

Illinois has a history of recordsetting spending on judicial races, highlighted by the successful 2020 campaign to unseat Democratic Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride

Kilbride and the main group opposing his retention together raised more than $11.7 million, the most expensive retention vote on record nationally

Kilbrides removal from the bench set off a chain of events that led the Democraticcontrolled General Assembly to draw new boundaries for the states five judicial districts in an effort to preserve their partycourt majority

On the Nov. 8 ballot, Democratic Lake County Associate Judge Elizabeth LizRochford faces Republican Mark Curran, the former Lake County sheriff, in the race for the Supreme Court seat in the new and Judicial District, which includes Lake, McHenry, DeKalb, Kane and Kendall counties

In the new 3rd Judicial District, comprising DuPage, Will and Kankakee counties, appointed Republican Justice Michael J. Burke faces Democratic Appellate Judge Mary K. OBrien

Read the full article on chicagotribune.org.

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