CHICAGO - In a press conference following yesterday's Republican unity event, Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin made it clear that he didn't appreciate outside groups funding challengers to House incumbents. Durkin told reporters he was outraged at the money spent on primaries and suggested that independent expenditure groups and their freedom to spend money on elections should be reined in.
“The money that was spent in at least two of our races is something we don’t even spend in the general election,” Durkin said. “I’m in the minority. Should we put some checks and balances in there? I’d love to see it. I think there needs to be more transparency from those groups-where they receive their money and actually who’s running them, as well.”
When asked about the hundreds of thousands of dollars he authorized to be spent during the primary, Durkin told reporters that he'd like to see more transparency and campaign restrictions placed on independent expenditure groups.
Durkin refused to answer when asked by Illinois Review's Fran Eaton if he would also impose caps on caucus leadership PACs.
"I'm not prepared to and I'm not going to answer that," Durkin said.
Currently in Illinois, caucus leaders such as Speaker Madigan, Minority Leader Durkin, Senate President Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Radogno have no limits on PAC spending in the General Elections. However, in primaries, those caucus leadership PACs and political parties may spend $78,900 on House candidates and $131,600 on Senate candidates. They have varying limits on the amounts they can take in from individuals, corporations and other PACs - much more than allowed candidates or independent political advocacy groups.
It seemed clear that Durkin's anger was focused on independent expenditure group Liberty Principles PAC headed by Dan Proft, which invested a significant amount of resources into candidates challenging incumbent Republican House members.
"I find Jim Durkin's political tone deafness unfortunate. I had hoped he had learned more from Tom Cross' decade of abject failure in terms of what not to do as House GOP Leader," Proft told Illinois Review.
"It is really quite simple: a Republican Party that rejects accountability is a Republican Party destined to be a super-minority party. A Republican Party that preaches competition but practices political protectionism is a Republican Party destined to be a super-minority party," Proft said. "A Republican Party that tells talented people to sit and wait to be called upon before they are allowed to seek office or participate in some pre-approved way is destined to be a super-minority party."
Proft said that by contrast, "a Republican Party that recruits, develops and supports talented people, has mechanisms of discipline to hold them to account for their records both as policy leaders and party builders, and focuses the party's combined effort on advancing the flag for economic liberty in Illinois can be a super-majority party."
"Leader Durkin is free to choose the former model. I choose to pursue the latter model. We shall compete where we must and cooperate where we can and let the results tell the tale," said Proft whose winning House candidates included State Reps. John Anthony and Jeanne Ives, as well as challengers Mark Batinick, Peter Breen, Randy Freese, Margo McDermed, Reggie Phillips, and Keith Wheeler. Keith Matune, who ran against incumbent Ron Sandack, came very close, but was Liberty Principles PAC's one loss.
Susan Garrett, head of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform told Illinois Review the discussion about constitutionally-acceptable limits on independent expenditure groups is about to take center stage in Illinois' legislature.
"We're in full agreement with Leader Durkin, there's a need for Illinois to demand more transparency from super PACs," Garrett said. "We believe that voter turnout is depressed because voters feel disenfranchised because of all of the outside money that is heavily influencing elections. There are things that can be done internally within the state of Illinois, and we encourage the discussion to move forward."
The topic will be discussed at a luncheon at Chicago's Kirkland Ellis law firm April 25th, where representatives for and against campaign finance reform will lead the discussion. The event is open to the public.