SARA BURNETT - Associated Press - Sunday, May 24, 2015
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - An already challenging legislative session has grown even trickier as Democrats and Republicans have begun targeting lawmakers with campaign-style mailers, TV ads and new multimillion-dollar political committees.
The Democratic Party, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, sent the first of what’s expected to be several mailers, telling voters last week that GOP lawmakers “failed” them on controlling property taxes, citing a vote orchestrated by Madigan. Meanwhile, Gov. Bruce Rauner dispensed $400,000 from his $20 million political fund to fellow Republicans, while a conservative group targeted Democrats in TV commercials.
Two political committees - one created to support Rauner’s agenda and another that plans to get involved in Democratic primaries - have banked about $13 million from a handful of wealthy donors since forming last month. Madigan recently held his annual fundraiser, and the state GOP has been sending fundraising pleas to supporters asking them to donate to support Rauner’s efforts.
“Clearly the political season has begun,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, one of the targeted Democrats.
While it’s not unheard of for political parties or interest groups to target lawmakers during a legislative session - even 18 months before Election Day - the activity is amped up this year as the election of a Republican governor brings a new dynamic to the Democrat-controlled Legislature. It’s unusual for a governor to so directly throw a bunch of money around, but Rauner sees it as simply counteracting what Democrats have done for a long time.
With lawmakers heading into the spring session’s final week, some legislators say the heightened politicking is making progress tougher on major issues such as a new state budget, a $111 billion pension crisis, reining in property taxes and weighing whether to expand gambling. And the session so far has become a huge test of political wills.