Simon Says: Alter Ways to Finance Political Races Former Senator, Group Make Call for Stricter Limits in Illinois Law

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Former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., and a bipartisan group of political luminaries on Wednesday laid out a plan that would limit political contributions and impose new rules on how those dollars are spent.

"We have no (campaign) limits whatsoever. That simply is not tolerable," said Simon, as the task force he co-chairs unveiled the proposal at a news conference here. "The way we finance campaigns distorts democracy."

Unlike the federal government and most states, Illinois places no limits on the size or source of campaign contributions to state and local politicians. A study last year found that Illinois, California and Idaho were tied for having the fewest campaign finance limitations. "When you're looking at (the campaign system) of Illinois, it's like looking at the wild west," said task force member Cynthia Canary of the Illinois League of Women Voters. The task force's 19 recommendations would limit contributors to $2,000 per election to any one candidate, with a total $200,000 limit on a donor's contributions to all candidates. Now, it isn't unusual for major special interest groups to donate tens of thousands of dollars to individual candidates and $1 million or more total. The proposals also would limit to $25,000 the amount that politicians can transfer to one another's campaign funds, a direct strike at the legislative leaders of both parties. They gain a good share of their political power through the carrot-and-stick system of contributing or withholding fund transfers among their fellow lawmakers. The group, called the Illinois Campaign Finance Task Force, was formed in 1995 by the University of Illinois at Springfield and other entities to examine the issue. The group was privately financed and included former Illinois Gov. William Stratton. In addition to the contribution limits, the task force proposed: * Restrictions on the personal use of campaign funds. * Requiring unions and business groups to file more information about their campaign support. * Creating an oversight commission to continue examining the campaign system. * Requiring campaign donors to disclose for whom they work. * Dropping requirements that had forced the media and the public to fill out forms before viewing campaign records. …