By Rich Miller
The Washington Post published a story the other day entitled “Meet the wealthy donors who are pouring millions into the 2016 elections.”
The paper listed the top ten national donors to so-called “super PACS.” The list is topped by wealthy San Francisco Democrat Tom Steyer at $38 million. Second place went to “New York-based hedge-fund magnate” Robert Mercer, at $20.2 million.
Keep in mind that these are national-minded donors who are giving to super PACs that focus on the presidential race and U.S. Senate and congressional campaigns throughout the country.
Now, take a look at the money contributed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. His personal campaign committee has contributed over $16 million to the Illinois Republican Party alone this year (not to mention another $100K for his governor-buddy next door), accounting for 95 percent of all the money the party has raised. The party has, in turn, used that Rauner money to fund television and radio ads, direct mail, polling, staff, etc. for state House and Senate campaigns.
In June, Rauner gave another $2.5 million to Dan Proft’s Liberty Principles PAC, which is heavily involved in legislative contests.
And the governor contributed $2 million to the Turnaround Illinois PAC, which describes its mission thusly: “To support state legislative candidates who support Gov. Rauner’s bold and needed reforms, and to oppose those who stand in the way.”
That’s roughly $20.5 million, enough for second place in the aforementioned Washington Post list. The difference is, here in Illinois, it’s one guy focusing on only one state.
There are some definite apples and oranges when making this comparison. Not every dime of Rauner’s campaign fund came from Rauner himself. But the total doesn’t include $2.2 million that Rauner gave to his own campaign fund this year, in order to avoid any possible double-counting as money is passed through.
What it does show you, though, is how one person is dominating the money race here far more than individual wealthy people are influencing the national races.
Yes, the Democrats have raised plenty of money as well this year. At the end of June, all Democrats (including the legislative leaders, the state party, rank and file legislators and Democratic challengers) actually had $3.4 million more cash on hand than all similar Republicans, including Rauner.
But Scott Kennedy at Illinois Election Data took a look at legislative funding so far this cycle and, as of 9 p.m. on September 6, 16 of the top 20 total contributions to targeted candidates were Republicans.
So, if the Democrats had more cash on hand, then why aren’t they spending more of it? Well, the Democrats can raise only so much more money before November. Rauner and his wealthy friends can simply write big checks and completely erase any disadvantage as need be. It’s kind of like how people who are expecting a large inheritance don’t save much money for retirement. They know lots more cash is in the pipeline, so they often feel free to spend as they wish today.
Kennedy also looked at all the money raised this cycle by the Illinois GOP, the House Republican Organization, the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee and the personal campaign funds of the two Republican legislative leaders and found that of the $21.8 million they’ve raked in so far, 73 percent comes from Gov. Rauner. Without that Rauner money, the Republicans would be at a huge cash disadvantage, like they always have in the past.
Gov. Rauner is giving Republican legislative candidates a fighting chance in a year which otherwise would be seen as a complete lost cause. Despite her national problems, all polling shows Hillary Clinton with a double-digit lead in Illinois.
Without Rauner, Republican legislative leaders would be bracing for an even further retreat into their tiny minority, and praying that the off-year election of 2018 would give them enough of a boost to regain a seat or two here and there.
To make it clear, I’m not saying what Gov. Rauner is doing is a bad thing. House Speaker Michael Madigan has in the past absolutely drowned the House Republicans with his ability to outspend them. The tables are finally being turned on Madigan these days. What goes around comes around, as they say.
But if you thought that Rauner exerted a lot of influence on Republican legislators during his first two spring legislative sessions, you probably ain’t seen nothing yet, especially if the GOP does better than would normally be expected. The Republican leaders are going to owe him big. Really big. And, whatever happens in November, they’ll want to keep that money pipeline flowing freely in 2018.