Rauner-Madi­gan war fu­els spend­ing binge on Illinois cam­paigns that’s likely to set spend­ing records

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDY GRIMM Staff Reporter

Cam­paign fundrais­ing records are poised to fall be­fore the March 15 pri­mary, thanks to the political proxy war be­tween Gov. Bruce Rauner and Demo­cratic House Speaker Mike Madi­gan that’s stoked mas­sive in­vest­ments in a hand­ful of races.

Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, earned the en­mity of his fel­low Democrats when he de­nied Madi­gan the votes he needed to over­ride Rauner ve­toes.

He also earned his political fund the largest sin­gle cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion in state his­tory — $500,000 from a political ac­tion com­mit­tee backed by Rauner sup­port­ers.

An­other Rauner-linked PAC has put more than $1 mil­lion into ads ei­ther pro­mot­ing Dunkin or tear­ing down Ju­liana Strat­ton, his op­po­nent in the race to rep- re­sent the 5th District who has taken in more than $1 mil­lion in cam­paign cash her­self, ac­cord­ing to the Illinois Cam­paign for Political Re­form, a watch­dog group.

“If all the funds they have avail­able now — and there is prob­a­bly go­ing to be more com­ing in th­ese last cou­ple of days — it will blow away the spend­ing record for a House pri­mary,” says Kent Red­field, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Illinois-Spring­field who tracks cam­paign spend­ing.

“We’re talk­ing about more than $2 mil­lion in a House pri­mary,” Red­field says, which is roughly dou­ble the high­est pre­vi­ous to­tal in a House pri­mary — the roughly $1 mil­lion tally in the race two years ago be­tween Democrats Chris­tian Mitchell and Jay Travis in Chicago’s 26th District.

“The cost of th­ese things is go­ing up cy­cle af­ter cy­cle,” says Red­field. “There’s no

end in sight. This will al­most cer­tainly be the most spent in a year when there was no race for gov­er­nor.”

Through the end of last week, 16 races across the state had got­ten con­tri­bu­tions from self-funded can­di­dates or “in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture” groups greater than $100,000. And such mas­sive do­na­tions can spur even larger surges of cash be­cause they lift con­tri­bu­tion lim­its and al­low in­di­vid­ual donors to pour even more money into a race.

Con­tri­bu­tion caps came off in Madi­gan’s race in the South Side 22nd District af­ter the su­per PAC Illinois United for Change spent more than $240,000 on con­sult­ing ser­vices and ad­ver­tis­ing for one of Madi­gan’s op­po­nents, political new­comer Ja­son Gon­za­les.

Illinois United’s big­gest donor is Chicago busi­ness­man Blair Hull, the for­mer U.S. Se­nate can­di­date who has crit­i­cized fel­low Demo­crat Madi­gan as “not a team player.”

Illinois United’s big spend­ing on the race meant that Madi­gan also could take in un­lim­ited con­tri­bu­tions. That means the House speaker could boost his war chest ex­po­nen­tially through the pri­mary— money he could then dole out to other Democrats come the gen­eral elec­tion.

Madi­gan al­ready has $2.3 mil­lion in his own can­di­date ac­count, and he con­trols around $7 mil­lion more in cam­paign funds asward com­mit­tee­man, head of the state Demo­cratic Party and leader of the House Democrats.

The gov­er­nor also has used this year’s elec­tions to show his dis­dain for mem­bers of his party who don’t vote in line with his wishes. Down­state Repub­li­can Sam McCann has jousted with Rauner over anti-union ini- tia­tives in the gov­er­nor’s Turn­around Agenda, and the con­ser­va­tive Lib­erty Prin­ci­ples PAC has dumped $1.3 mil­lion on ads sup­port­ing McCann’s pri­mary op­po­nent, Bryce Ben­ton.

The mas­sive infusion of cash into political cam­paigns has been fu­eled in large part by spend­ing from PACs, with Repub­li­can-linked com­mit­tees tak­ing in nearly all their money from a hand­ful of mil­lion­aire and bil­lion­aire donors, and Demo­cratic PACs draw­ing their sup­port from la­bor unions.

Mas­sive amounts of cash com­ing from out­side a district and even out­side the state dis­torts the demo­cratic process, says Sarah Brune, cam­paign fi­nance ex­pert for the Illinois Cam­paign for Political Re­form.

“When can­di­dates are get­ting all of their money from th­ese kinds of groups, who are they go­ing to be re­spon­sive to?” Brune says. “The groups that do­nate to their cam­paigns? Or the res­i­dents of their district?”

Red­field points out that th­ese high-priced elec­tions are a bi­par­ti­san af­flic­tion, not­ing that, in gen­eral elec­tion races, the two par­ties typ­i­cally match each other in cam­paign spend­ing.

“You’re cre­at­ing a class of leg­is­la­tors that have a debt to in­ter­ests out­side their dis­tricts,” says Red­field. “If you’re a Demo­crat or a Repub­li­can that’s a wholly owned sub­sidiary of some­one else, it doesn’t mat­ter who has bought and paid for you.”

In 2012, the last time Dunkin faced a pri­mary op­po­nent, fewer than 11,000 peo­ple voted. If there’s a sim­i­lar turnout this time and he and Strat­ton spend a com­bined $2 mil­lion — which, at this point, Red­field sees as a low-ball es­ti­mate — they will have burned through $424 for each per­son who voted.

Par­tic­u­larly in smaller races, the big spend­ing can quickly reach a point of di­min­ish­ing re­turns, ac­cord­ing to Red­field, who says races like Dunkin-Strat­ton are more a show of force in the larger Rauner-Madi­gan strug­gle than sound elec­tion strat­egy.

“There are only so many mail­ers you can send and com­mer­cials you can air be­fore peo­ple start to tune you out,” he says. “And when there is money in­volved, there tend to be political con­sul­tants, and that means the ma­jor­ity of the ad­ver­tis­ing is go­ing to be neg­a­tive. That’s a turnoff for vot­ers.”

Myra Olaopa, who lives in Dunkin’s district, has grown tired of hav­ing her South Loop mail­box turned into a political bat­tle­ground.

“I get some­thing from — what’s her name?— Strat­ton ev­ery sin­gle day,” says Olaopa, who called and emailed Strat­ton’s cam­paign to try and get off the can­di­date’s mail­ing list.

And, she says, “I get some­thing from the other guy maybe two times a week.”

She doesn’t plan to vote un­til the gen­eral elec­tion — she says she hasn’t ever voted in a pri­mary — and doesn’t see the point in sat­u­rat­ing the neigh­bor­hood with political fly­ers.

“Even if I was in­ter­ested, I would read it just once,” Olaopa says. “Why would I want to read some­thing ev­ery day? I hate it. It comes out of my mail­box and goes right in the trash.”


KENT RED­FIELD, Univer­sity of Illinois-Spring­field


The po­lit­i­cal war be­tween House Speaker Michael Madi­gan (left), D-Chicago, and Gov. Bruce Rauner (front right) is fu­el­ing big spend­ing on Illi­nois races.

Rep. Ken Dunkin

Ju­liana Stratton

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