Dollars & Sense: The $100,000 Question - How One Check Can Produce Millions for Politicians - NBC Chicago
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Dollars & Sense: The $100,000 Question - How One Check Can Produce Millions for Politicians

While it is all legal, critics argue the $100,000 rule is just another example of how the campaign finance law in Illinois can benefit the politically powerful and wealthy.

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    How One Check Can Produce Millions for Politicians

    While it is all legal, critics argue the $100,000 rule is just another example of how the campaign finance law in Illinois can benefit the politically powerful and wealthy. NBC 5’s Carol Marin reports.

    (Published Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018)

    Aug. 22, 2018, was a big day for arguably the most powerful politician in Illinois.

    On that day, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s political campaign committee got a $55,400 contribution from UFCW Local 881, the union representing retail food and nursing home workers in Illinois, according to state campaign finance records.

    But wait.

    That same day, the Illinois Democratic Party, which Madigan chairs, also got the same amount from the union’s political action committee.

    The Democratic Majority, whose chairman is Michael J. Madigan, got $52,400.

    In total $163,200 was given to three committees on one day, run by the same man, who had no opposition in either the primary or general election.

    Less than three weeks later, another UCFW Local 881 check for $55,400 was sent to the 13th Ward Democratic Organization, run by Mike Madigan.

    It’s the maximum donation any political action committee can make each cycle a candidate is up for election, according to Illinois campaign finance laws.

    "You max out in the primary [election] and you max out in the general [election],” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

    For the four Illinois legislative leaders who, unlike other legislators, have access to multiple political committees, there is a significant perk to this ability to collect campaign contributions, according to Redfield.

    Once the money is in their campaign account, Redfield said, "it is not terribly difficult to move a lot of money into the system and then for them to move it around," most likely to fellow Republicans and Democrats running for office.

    The campaign finance law was changed after the arrest and impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

    The current limits are capped at:

    -$5,600 for individuals

    -$11,00 for corporations and labor groups

    -and $55,400 for a political action committee

    But there is a loophole that allows candidates to self-fund with a $100,000 contribution, thus blowing the caps and opening the financial floodgates.

    On Aug. 16, Madigan gave his campaign fund $100,001.

    What followed, state records show, were 23 six-figure contributions to his campaign committee, Friends of Madigan, totaling nearly $8 million.

    "It does give an advantage to people who are in leadership, who have access to a number of different committees,” Redfield said.

    But Madigan wasn’t alone.

    State records show Republican senate leader Bill Brady likewise gave his campaign $100,001 on Oct. 1.

    A few days later, the state’s richest citizen, Ken Griffin, gave Brady’s campaign a whopping $1.5 million.

    And while it is all legal, critics argue the $100,000 rule is just another example of how the campaign finance law in Illinois can benefit the politically powerful and wealthy.

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