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Illinois legislators approve election law changes some worry fosters corruption

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(The Center Square) – An omnibus election bill passed the Illinois General Assembly and lawmakers fear a provision within the bill that allows politicians to receive unlimited funding from political parties will only lead to more corruption.

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, brought up the charges against the former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Wilhour said giving political parties such as the Democrat Party of Illinois and the Illinois House Republican Organization more money will give them more power.

“Unlimited campaign contributions from existing political apparatus is only going to result in making the politically powerful even more powerful than they are right now and that is going to come at the expense of the citizens,” Wilhour said. “It always does. Corruption, influence peddling, insider dealing, these are the things that allow the crazy policies to come out of this place that have destroyed opportunity for almost everybody in this state. Making these people more powerful is exactly the wrong direction.”

Madigan faces federal racketeering and bribery charges where federal prosecutors allege he and his collogues used his public office for personal gain. His trial is scheduled for this fall.

Prior to House Bill 4488, campaign contribution caps were applied only to primary races. Now both primaries and general election candidates will have unlimited campaign contributions funneled into their war chests.

“This change will allow party leaders to funnel unlimited funds to their favored primary candidates,” said Reform For Illinois, a good government advocacy group. “It will further increase their power and the power of big donors while undermining the ability of more independent contenders to win their party’s nomination.”

State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, sponsored HB4488.

State Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, pointed out that the original bill dealt with establishing a Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week. The bill was gutted and replaced by West.

“We are dealing with an extremely important election bill and I see Crohn’s, Colitis. We could add anal glands … but this has nothing to do with what we’re dealing with right here. When we gut and replace [bills] and it has absolutely nothing to do with what we are discussing … it is very deceiving to the public,” said Hammond.

West’s bill also seeks to weaken the current law that has the Illinois State Board of Elections providing voter registration lists and voting history data. The new bill, if signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, will allow certain registrant data to be redacted and the law would change the timeframe in which an entity, registered with the board, can obtain the public records.

West fielded questions about his bill that seeks to maintain a relationship with the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which is a multi-state partnership that allows states to share voter registration data with each other. State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, questioned West on why he thinks other states, like Florida, Missouri and West Virginia, are distancing themselves from ERIC.

“Other states are moving away from ERIC, do you know why that is?” asked Windhorst.

“A lot of this was already in statute, we are just clarifying it,” said West. “The Illinois State Board of Elections has made the decision to remain involved [with ERIC]. I can’t speak for policy decisions of other states.”

ERIC cost Illinois taxpayer $102,151 in fiscal year 2024.

West said on the floor he believes ERIC does do good for the state of Illinois when he was asked about the organization’s ability to clean voter rolls. Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd said the voting organization in charge of the ERIC system didn’t do enough to secure data privacy or “eliminate ERIC’s partisan tendencies.” West said the new law would allow for state agencies to not transmit voter registration data to the State Board of Elections.

“[Electronic Registration Information Center Membership Agreement between the Illinois State Board of Elections and ERIC] was implemented in February 2023 and now it has been updated that ISBE may not transmit additional member data [they receive from other agencies]. The current statute says they need to transmit data they get from other agencies, so we are taking that part out,” said West.

Separately, Senate Bill 2412 eliminates a political party’s ability to slate candidates if they didn’t run in the primary. That passed the General Assembly and was signed by Pritzker. But, the measure is currently under court order to not be enforced.

A different bill that’s been stalled, Senate Bill 2978, was withdrawn from consideration last week. That bill aimed to prohibit the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office from sharing data derived from an individual’s driver’s license application with the State Board of Elections.

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