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Dan Proft and Liberty Principles PAC v. Raoul

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 16, 2019

Dan Proft and Liberty Principles PAC, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Kwame Raoul, Attorney General of Illinois, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued September 6, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:18-cv-04947 - Virginia M. Kendall, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook, Kanne, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

          Brennan, Circuit Judge

         A provision of the Illinois Election Code limits how much money entities can contribute to political campaigns. But in some races, Illinois lifts these limits, allowing certain entities to make unlimited campaign contributions and coordinate unlimited spending with candidates. Illinois Liberty PAC, an independent expenditure committee, is not one of these entities; indeed, Illinois bans all independent expenditure committees from making campaign contributions and from coordinating spending with candidates.

         Plaintiffs Dan Proft and the Illinois Liberty PAC do not attack the entire contribution and coordination ban enforced against independent expenditure committees. Rather, they seek to overturn the ban only when unlimited contributions and unlimited coordinated expenditures are allowed for others. Otherwise, plaintiffs claim, Illinois's ban violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and free association and the Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection.

         Whether a constitutional violation exists here depends on if the contribution and coordination ban is closely drawn to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption. Because striking down the ban would increase the risk of corruption and circumvent other election code sections that work to prevent political corruption, we affirm the district court's dismissal of this suit and denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction.


         A. The Illinois Election Code

         Like many states, Illinois permits political contributions by individuals, corporations, unions, associations, political action committees ("PACs"), and political parties. Illinois limits how much money these groups may contribute to a political campaign. See 10 ILL. COMP. Stat. 5/9-8.5(b). Individuals may contribute up to $5, 000; corporations, unions, and associations may donate up to $10, 000; and PACs may provide up to $50, 000. Id. The Illinois Election Code does not limit contributions by a political party in a general election, but it does limit a political party's contributions in a primary election. Id.

         Unlike many other states, Illinois lifts these contribution limits in some races. If a candidate's self-funding exceeds $250, 000 in a race for statewide office, or $100, 000 in any other race, or if spending by an independent expenditure committee or individual exceeds either of these limits, the Illinois Election Code waives contribution limits for all candidates in that race. 10 ILL. COMP. Stat. 5/9-8.5(h), (h-5). In short, the code allows individuals and certain entities to contribute to and coordinate with candidates without limits when self-funding or independent expenditures exceed a threshold amount.

         In addition to regulating contributions to candidates, the Illinois Election Code regulates independent expenditures. Those expenditures are (1) "any payment, gift, donation, or expenditure of funds," (2) used "for the purpose of making electioneering communications" or for advocating in support of a candidate or against a candidate, and (3) not made in coordination with a campaign. 10 ILL. COMP. Stat. 5/9-1.15. Before making political expenditures exceeding $3, 000 in a 12-month period, the Illinois Election Code requires any entity (other than an individual) to first register as a political committee. 10 ILL. COMP. Stat. 5/9-8.6(b).

         An independent expenditure committee is a type of polical committee that may "accept unlimited contributions from any source, provided [] the independent expenditure committee does not make contributions to any candidate ..., political party committee, or [PAC]." 10 ILL. COMP. Stat. 5/9-3(d-5). The Illinois Election Code never permits independent expenditure committees to contribute to candidates, even when contribution limits are lifted for individuals and other entities.[1] If an independent expenditure committee violates the code by contributing to a candidate, party, or PAC, the Illinois State Board of Elections assesses a fine on the independent expenditure committee "equal to the amount of any contribution received in the preceding 2 years by the independent expenditure committee that exceeded the limits [] a [PAC]" may accept in an election cycle. 10 ILL. COMP. Stat. 5/9-8.6(d). In effect, the Illinois Election Code grants independent expenditure committees a trade-off-they can raise unlimited funds for independent expenditures, but they risk heavy fines if those funds are contributed to candidates, parties, or PACs.

         B. Claims by Proft and ...

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