Posted Jun. 11, 2016 at 8:10 PM
Updated at 8:47 PM
It’s not new that politicians are keeping an eye toward the next election as they battle each other over policy.
Of course, the fact that Illinois hasn’t had a full state budget in nearly a year creates great pressure — or at least it should — for agreement soon to keep not only government and schools, but social service agencies operating.
But in addition to saying he wants elements of his pro-business, union-weakening "turnaround agenda" passed by a Democratic legislature before he will agree to more state revenue, Gov. BRUCE RAUNER has also changed the political landscape with his wallet.
As an example, on May 4, Citizens for Rauner, the governor’s political fund, donated $5 million to the Illinois Republican Party.
Six days later, the state GOP donated $2 million to the House Republican Organization, which helps GOP House incumbents and candidates.
Because he poured $27 million of his own money into what turned out to be his $65 million campaign for governor in 2014, we might be getting immune to big numbers.
But it has not been typical in pre-Rauner years for any state committee to so easily get multiple millions. The former venture capitalist is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and his family income in 2014 was $57.5 million, his tax return showed.
KENT REDFIELD, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, has long watched campaign finance issues in the state.
Big transfers to party committees, perhaps from funds run by legislative leaders, in the past might reach $1 million or $1.5 million, he said. But Rauner alone can generate “a much bigger number.”
“He really does dominate the money on the Republican side, and we assume there’s more where that came from,” Redfield said.
Redfield said targeted House and Senate races in 2014 involved spending of perhaps $25 million.
This fall, Redfield said, “We’re probably going to have about the same number of targeted races, and the spending could double.”
He said spending in a couple of primaries in March in which the governor had an interest broke records from earlier general elections. The spending in those races included independent expenditures, like the more than $3 million spent by Liberty Principles PAC in an attempt to have Illinois State Police Trooper BRYCE BENTON of Springfield defeat state Sen. SAM McCANN, R-Plainview, who voted counter to the governor on a union arbitration bill the governor opposed. McCann won in a race with total spending of about $4 million.
A Democratic state representative, KEN DUNKIN, D-Chicago, sided with Rauner on some issues and was defeated by JULIANA STRATTON in a primary that Redfield said involved $6 million in spending.
Of course, Democrats are also raising money. The Democratic Party of Illinois had $2.4 million in the bank as of March 31. Since then, several donations have been reported, including $25,000 from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters.
House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, chairs the state Democratic Party. And his Friends of Michael J. Madigan committee had nearly $1.4 million in the bank as of the end of March.
But Citizens for Rauner had more than $20 million on hand at that time.
At the end of 2014, after Rauner defeated former Democratic Gov. PAT QUINN, Rauner put $10 million in his own campaign fund; Chicago billionaire KEN GRIFFIN, CEO of the hedge fund Citadel put in $8 million; and RICHARD UIHLEIN, CEO of Uline Corp., added $2 million.
NICK KLITZING, executive director of the Illinois Republican Party, said about the Rauner money: “Mike Madigan drew the legislative maps and has a seemingly endless supply of special interest money, so we hope to raise the resources to stay on a level playing field with Madigan’s Chicago machine.”
STEVE BROWN, spokesman for Madigan, said later that the map was not drawn by Madigan alone but by the legislature in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
And about campaign money, Brown said, “Democrats expect to be outspent by Rauner and the 1 percenters.”
As he has seesawed in recent weeks from asking Democrats for cooperation to get at least a short-term budget and attacking their plans as a Chicago bailout, Rauner hasn’t talked much in public about the political side.
But at the state GOP convention in Peoria in late May, Rauner told delegates that government is “not working for you, the people of Illinois. It’s working for special interests, lobbyists, cronies, patronage workers, folks who make money from the government” and “take your hard-earned tax dollars.”
“We’re gonna bring in the resources and put together the biggest ground game that’s ever been done for legislative races in Illinois history, and we are gonna pick up seats against the corrupt Chicago machine and Madigan’s Democrats.” He said he wants to bring back government that “works for people not special interests.”
He often refers to government unions as special interests.
Brown said he doesn’t like to make election predictions, but said, “We’re hopeful that the message of what we’re trying to do — to protect working families, to not take the state back into the early '80s as it relates to worker rights — will be a good message. Time will tell.”