FILE - Michael Madigan

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017 in Springfield.

Even though the 2020 primaries and general elections are months away, some big political donations are being made and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has blown the statutory limit off of his campaign. 

Madigan filed a “notification of self funding” on Aug. 23, indicating that the $100,001 donation he had made to himself removed the state limitations on campaign contributions in what is so far an uncontested race. Madigan, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, has faced election challenges in the past, but has never been defeated in his own district, which he has represented continuously since 1971. So far, no candidate has announced plans to challenge Madigan in the 22nd District.

Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, said the matter was public record, but declined further comment on the donation.

Madigan’s primary state committee, Friends of Michael J. Madigan, has amassed nearly $8 million, more than any other committee. 

The speaker, along with the other three legislative leaders, did the same in the months preceding the 2018 election. This enabled them to accept large donations and funnel them to other key races because inter-party transfers aren't capped.

Another fund, the Illinois Democratic Heartland Fund,  recently received $250,000 from “JB for Governor,” the campaign committee of billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The first-term Democrat has donated more than $174 million of his own money into the committee, which had $1.6 million in it as of July.

Pritzker gave another $250,000 to the Senate Democratic Victory Fund on the same day.

Madigan is not the first Illinois lawmaker to blow through campaign contribution limits. Peoria Republican state Sen. Chuck Weaver submitted his self-funding form in July after the businessman donated $300,000 to his campaign.

The self-funding rules in Illinois’ campaign finance laws are rooted in freedom of speech, but some point to potential pitfalls of the practice.

“You can take campaign donations, in an unlimited way, from anyone,” said Aaron McKean, legal counsel for the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center. “When I’m a candidate and I take a large contribution from someone, that’s where that appearance of corruption really starts to take hold.” 

Liberty Principles PAC manager Dan Proft filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 to lift the cap on donations from political action committees like his claiming the same contribution restrictions aren’t placed on self-funded candidates and restricted free speech. That case was dismissed.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.