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Illinois Liberty PAC v. Madigan

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 7, 2016

ILLINOIS LIBERTY PAC, EDGAR BACHRACH, and KYLE McC ARTER, Plaintiffs,
v.
LISA M. MADIGAN, Attorney General of Illinois, WILLIAM McGUFFAGE, Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Elections, JESSE R. SMART, Vice-Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Elections, HAROLD D. BYERS, Member of the Illinois State Board of Elections, BETTY J. COFFRIN, Member of the Illinois State Board of Elections, ERNEST L. GOWEN, Member of the Illinois State Board of Elections, JUDITH C. RICE, Member of the Illinois State Board of Elections, BRYAN A. SCHNEIDER, Member of the Illinois State Board of Elections, and CHARLES W. SCHOLZ, Member of the Illinois State Board of Elections, all in their official capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Gary Feinerman Judge

         llinois Liberty PAC, Edgar Bachrach, and Kyle McCarter brought this declaratory judgment action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Attorney General of Illinois and the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and other members of the Illinois State Board of Elections, all in their official capacities, alleging that certain contribution limits imposed by the Illinois Election Code violate the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Doc. 65. Early in the litigation, the court denied Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction due to a low likelihood of success on the merits. Docs. 43-44 (reported at 902 F.Supp.2d 1113 (N.D. HI. 2012)). The Seventh Circuit summarily affirmed, stating: "We agree with the district court that [Plaintiffs] have not shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their challenge to contribution limits in 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5." 2012 WL 5259036 (7th Cir. Oct. 24, 2012). This court then dismissed most of Plaintiffs' claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), except for the claim-which Plaintiffs added after preliminary injunctive relief was denied-that the Illinois Election Code is unconstitutional to the extent it classifies legislative caucus committees as political party committees and thereby treats them more favorably than political action committees ("PACs"), corporations, and individuals. Docs. 95-96 (reported at 2014 WL 859325 (N.D. 111. Mar. 3, 2014)). After discovery devoted to that claim, the court denied the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and Defendants' motion to bar the expert opinions of Plaintiffs' expert, Dr. Marcus Osborn. Docs. 162-163 (reported at 2015 WL 5589630 (N.D. 111. Sept. 21, 2015)). The court held a bench trial on that claim. Docs. 182-183.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), the court enters the following findings of fact, which are found by a preponderance of the evidence, and conclusions of law. To the extent that any findings of fact may be considered conclusions of law, they shall be deemed conclusions of law, and to the extent that any conclusions of law may be considered findings of fact, they shall be deemed findings of fact. After considering the admissible evidence and the parties' stipulations, and upon assessing the witnesses' credibility, the court finds that the Code's contribution limits do not violate the First Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause.

         Findings of Fact

         A. Illinois Campaign Finance Law

         1. The Illinois Disclosure and Regulation of Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Act ("the Act"), 10 ILCS 5/9-1 etseq., which is codified as part of the Illinois Election Code, recognizes three classes of political contributors: (1) individuals; (2) political committees; and (3) corporations, labor unions, and other associations. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(b).

         2. There are several different types of political committees, including candidate political committees, political party committees, and PACs. 10 ILCS 5/9-1.8(a).

         3. Individuals may contribute $5, 000 to a candidate in a given election cycle. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(b).

         4. Individuals may contribute $10, 000 to a PAC per election cycle; the same limit applies to an individual's contributions to a political party committee per election cycle. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(c)-(d).

         5. A PAC, defined as a group of people or an organization "that accepts contributions or makes expenditures during any 12-month period in an aggregate amount exceeding $5, 000 on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate, " 10 ILCS 5/9-1.8(d), may contribute $50, 000 to a candidate during an election cycle. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(b).

         6. A political party committee is the state, county, or ward/township committee of a political party, or a legislative caucus committee. 10 ILCS 5/9-1.8(c).

         7. In contrast to individuals and PACs, political party committees may contribute unlimited amounts to a candidate during a general election. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(b).

         8. During a primary election, political party committees are subject to a $200, 000 contribution limit to a candidate for statewide office; a $125, 000 limit for state senate elections and certain judicial and county elections; a $75, 000 limit for state representative elections and certain judicial and county elections; and $50, 000 for all other elections. Ibid.

         9. Political party committees may contribute $20, 000 to a PAC in a given election cycle. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(d).

         10. The foregoing amounts are adjusted regularly for inflation. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(g).

         11. It is a Class A misdemeanor for a candidate to accept a contribution exceeding the applicable limit. 10 ILCS 5/9-25.2.

         12. As noted, one type of political party committee is a legislative caucus committee. 10 ILCS 5/9-1.8(c).

         13. A legislative caucus committee is "a committee established for the purpose of electing candidates to the General Assembly." Ibid.

         14. A legislative caucus committee may be formed by each of the majority and minority leaders of the state House and Senate-i.e., the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, and the President and Minority Leader of the Senate-or by a committee of five state senators or ten state representatives of the same caucus. Ibid.

         15. The contribution limits on legislative caucus committees are the same as those imposed on other political party committees. 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(b). A candidate may accept contributions from only one legislative caucus committee per election cycle. Ibid. There is no similar limitation on a candidate's receipt of contributions from other political party committees.

         16. An "election cycle" consists of either a primary election or a general election. 1/26/16 Tr. at 207:3-6. Therefore, a political candidate may receive contributions from one legislative caucus committee during the primary election and from another legislative caucus committee in the general election. Id. at 209:21-24.

         17. For ease of reference, the court uses the term "political party" to refer to a political party and its affiliated committees other than a legislative caucus committee, and the term "candidate" to refer to a candidate and his or her affiliated campaign committee.

         18. Plaintiffs claim that the Act's treatment of legislative caucus committees as political party committees, and its favorable treatment of legislative caucus committees as compared to PACs, individuals, and corporations, are unconstitutional. 1/25/16 Tr. at 7:17-24. They argue that legislative caucus committees, though regulated as political parties, actually have little in common with political parties and are far more similar to PACs. Id. at 9:11-22; see also PI. Exh. 1 at 13 ("The benefits provided to Legislative Caucus Committees are unwarranted because they operate more like political action committees than party committees."). Because legislative caucus committees have the potential to corrupt, the argument goes, their classification as political parties undermines the Act's anti-corruption justification for limiting contributions from individuals and PACs and renders the law fatally underinclusive. 1/25/16 Tr. at 11:3-9.

         B. Illinois Liberty PAC

         19. Illinois Liberty PAC is a political action committee that donates funds to candidates running for election to the Illinois General Assembly. Doc. 178 at p. 17, ¶ 1; 1/25/16 Tr. at 51:14-21. The PAC provides financial contributions to candidates who support free market principles. 1/25/16 Tr. at 51:14-17.

         20. Illinois Liberty PAC wishes to contribute larger amounts of money to candidates for state office than the Illinois Election Code currently allows. Id. at 54:12-15.

         21. If there were no contribution limits (or, presumably, if there were more generous ones), Illinois Liberty PAC would adopt a different contribution strategy. Id. at 56:6-9.

         22. Illinois Liberty PAC is not aligned with any political party and would support any candidate that subscribed to a free market philosophy. Id. at 59:13-17.

         23. Illinois Liberty PAC does not advocate for a slate of candidates, and nor does it determine who sits on legislative committees or who obtains legislative leadership positions. Id. at 59:18-60:20.

         24. As a PAC, Illinois Liberty PAC is not beholden to the electorate and may not be voted into or out of office. Id. at 60:21-25.

         25. The contribution limits placed on Illinois Liberty PAC apply regardless of its viewpoint or the candidates to whom it contributes. Id. at 61:1-25.

         C. Edgar Bachrach

         26. Edgar Bachrach is an individual who makes contributions to PACs and political candidates. Doc. 178 at p. 17, ¶ 2; 1/25/16 Tr. at 19:15-21:19.

         27. In the 2012 election cycle, Bachrach contributed $5, 000 to Citizens for Babcock, a campaign committee for Michael Babcock, but he would have contributed more had the Act not prevented him from doing so. 1/25/16 Tr. at 19:18-21:8.

         28. In the 2014 election cycle, Bachrach contributed $10, 500 to Illinois Liberty PAC, but he would have contributed more if ...


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