Illinois Statehouse News

Rauner's millions may hamper GOP in general election

2014-01-20T00:00:00Z 2014-01-20T00:38:06Z Rauner's millions may hamper GOP in general electionKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
January 20, 2014 12:00 am  • 

When the dust settled last week, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford was the victor when it came to having the most money in his campaign account in his bid for the Republican gubernatorial primary election.

With $1.3 million in his campaign chest at the end of 2013, however, the Chenoa Republican's money lead over Bruce Rauner may not last long in the countdown to March 18.

As everyone knows, Rauner not only has millions of dollars in the pocket of his Carhartt outdoorswear, but he's been able to raise massive amounts from his superwealthy pals.

The situation has left state Sens. Kirk Dillard, of Hinsdale, and Bill Brady, of Bloomington, scrambling to pick up the spare nickels left in Rauner's wake.

But there is a new wrinkle in campaign finance laws that could play a significant role not only in the primary election, but possibly in the general election next November.

Illinois currently has limits on contributions, which are designed to ensure big dollar donors aren't contributing cash in hope of getting something back in return.

But, under the law, when a candidate gives their own campaign more than $250,000, those limits come off for all the candidates in that race.

That's what happened last month in the race for governor when Rauner plunked down more than $2.2 million of his own cash on the race.

The contribution limits came off for not just the Republican candidates, but for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn too.

That means Quinn — who likely faces little competition in the primary from underfunded community activist Tio Hardiman — can accept six-figure contributions during the primary and amass a massive war chest for the general election.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform sees a potential problem with this scenario.

In a blog post last week, the organization laid out this possible outcome:

If Rauner loses the GOP primary, the winning Republican likely will have spent their campaign account down to zero.

The winning GOP candidate then will have to start over when it comes to fundraising. And, with Rauner out of the race, they will have to do so operating under the standard contribution limits.

Quinn, on the other hand, could start out the general election campaign with a flush campaign account because he was able to raise money under the no-limits primary and likely won't have spent much to fend off Hardiman.

In other words, Rauner may be long gone by next November, but his big-spending legacy will be on full display.

"The law should be changed, so that limits in a primary come off only if your partisan opponent hit the triggers. This election shows why this change is important," the group noted.

-- FINANCING THE CAMPAIGN

While much of the focus last week was on the race for governor, other candidates also were reporting their year-end cash balances.

Secretary of State Jesse White raised $176,218 and has $626,268 heading into the 2014 election season.

Republican opponent Mike Webster, of Willowbrook, reported raising no money.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan raised just a pittance. No worries for her: She still has $4.7 million in her campaign account, compared to the $5,200 reported by her GOP opponent, Paul Schimpf, of Waterloo.

In the race for state treasurer, Democrat Mike Frerichs, of Champaign, ended the year with $833,000. His two Republican opponents — Tom Cross and Bob Grogan — had $388,000 and $21,000 in their accounts, respectively.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who wants to be the next comptroller, had $379,000 in her account as she tries to take out incumbent Republican Judy Baar Topinka, who reported $913,000 in her war chest.

-- UNION BLUES

Simon, meanwhile, was snubbed by Big Labor last week when the AFL-CIO endorsed Topinka.

While the influential coalition of unions can be a key source of funding for candidates, Simon can take solace that its endorsements have not always panned out.

The AFL-CIO endorsement in the 2004 U.S. Senate race went to Dan Hynes. Some guy named Barack Obama beat him.

In 2006, the AFL-CIO endorsed Knox County Prosecutor Paul Mangieri for treasurer. He was beaten by Alexi Giannoulias.

Giannoulias got the nod from the unions in the 2010 race for U.S. Senate. He was beaten by Mark Kirk.

The AFL-CIO also endorsed Terry Link for lieutenant governor and Robin Kelly for treasurer in 2010, only to see them go down in flames.

The opinions are solely the writer's. Kurt Erickson is the Lee Springfield Bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 782-4043.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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