Wilson broke this barrier for the first round all the way back in April of last year, while Vallas himself did it for the general by putting down $100,100 of his own money last week. People or companies that do business with the city are still barred from donating more than $1,500 to a candidate per year, but there are almost no other restrictions.
Wilson and Vallas are far from the first candidates to make these limits go away, though. Illinois, as the Chicago Sun-Times explained in 2020, didn’t have any contribution limits whatsoever until lawmakers established them in 2009 in response to the massive scandal that ultimately forced Gov. Rod Blagojevich (who narrowly beat none other than Vallas in their 2002 Democratic primary) from office. This “millionaires’” exemption was ostensibly put in place to prevent candidates from being badly outspent by self-funding opponents, but in practice politicians routinely take advantage of it so they can haul in as much money as they can.
Johnson also has his well-funded backers, as Crain’s Chicago Business’ Justin Laurence writes that his supporters at SEIU Healthcare recently put $750,000 in its PAC and are likely to donate to the commissioner’s campaign as well. But his rival will likely stand to benefit far more from his ability to take in unlimited campaign contributions: Laurence writes that “[l]arge checks from the business community are expected to continue” to go to Vallas, whom politicos anticipate will enjoy a big financial edge.
P.S. This tactic isn’t even limited to candidates in competitive races. Then-state House Speaker Michael Madigan famously threw down $100,001 in his uncontested 2018 general election, which allowed him to bring in an extra $12 million that he largely sent to committees he controlled. Candidates don’t even necessarily need to worry about losing $100,000 of their own money because they can list it as a loan, which is what Vallas did.
“If you think you'll be able to pay yourself back from campaign funds there's very little cost to using it,” said the head of the campaign finance reform group Reform for Illinois, adding, “The fact that loans are allowed also makes a mockery of the whole original ‘self-funding’ purpose of it.”
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