Common Cause Hails Chicago Vote to Rein In Big Money in Politics

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  • Dale Eisman

As they made their choices in the most expensive mayoral election in the city’s history, Chicagoans also pleaded for relief from big money’s dominance of local and state politics, Common Cause said tonight.

With over 80 percent of precincts reporting, the Fair Elections Illinois ballot initiative appeared headed for overwhelming approval, with 79 percent support. It calls on the City Council and the state legislature to approve and implement small donor matching fund systems to finance future campaigns for local and state offices.

“Illinois voters have seen firsthand the corrupting power of big money in our elections and today’s vote is powerful evidence that they’ve had enough of it,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. “Small donor matching fund systems like the one Chicagoans endorsed today put voters, not big dollar donors, at the center of our elections and encourage new candidates, with new ideas, to enter the political fray.

“In my home state of Connecticut and everywhere else they’ve been implemented, these systems have empowered small dollar donors and enlivened campaigns,” Rapoport added. “We’re hopeful the City Council and the Illinois legislature will heed the advice Chicagoans delivered today and move quickly to pass small donor public financing. Indeed, lawmakers in every state would do well to take a cue from Chicagoans and pass their own fair elections plans. Voters across the country are tired of big money’s dominance in our politics.”

Backers of the Illinois initiative, a project of Common Cause Illinois, envision a system similar to the one now operating in New York City. Public funds would be used to match relatively modest contributions from individuals – in New York the matching stops on donations of more than $175 — with the candidate receiving $6 for every $1 donated. In most cases, participating candidates also agree not to accept corporate and political action committee donations.

“A person or political committee that puts a five- or six-figure contribution into a campaign typically wants something more than simply good government in return,” said Rey Lopez-Calderon, executive director of Common Cause Illinois. “The interests of those big dollar donors generally are far different from those of the millions of people struggling to get into the middle class, or stay there.

Lopez-Calderon added that “when candidates see that a $25 per person event that attracts 40 people is suddenly worth $5,000 or $6,000 to their campaigns, they spend more time at such gatherings and less catering to big corporations and the rich.”

The Fair Elections Illinois initiative was endorsed by all five mayoral candidates and had the editorial backing of the Chicago Sun-Times. Additional information on the initiative is available at