Advocacy group: Big money in politics threatens candidate independence

CHICAGO – A political reform advocacy group says it has grave concerns about the amount of big money in Illinois elections.

Alisa Kaplan, policy director for Reform For Illinois, said Illinois’ gubernatorial candidates have raised $284.5 million.

“I use the term raise loosely because much of the money comes from the pockets of Gov. [Bruce] Rauner and J.B. Pritzker,” Kaplan said.

Pritzker broke records by bringing in more than $175.7 million, most of it from his personal wealth. Rauner has raised more than $79.4 million, also largely self-financed.

It’s not just the candidates who are putting up big money, Kaplan said, it’s also mega donors shelling out tens of millions to political action committees and candidates.

Kaplan said that puts grassroots politics out of reach for many.

“People will start to feel disaffected and withdraw from the process because they’ll feel that if they’re not wealthy, if they’re not particularly well connected politically, they just won’t have a voice in the process so why bother getting involved,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said the trend also is alarming because it threatens the independence of elected officials.

“We worry about this system where it’s very top down and much of both of the Democratic and Republican parties might feel they might have to march in lockstep with the main funders,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said one number to analyze after the election is how much each candidate spent for each vote. In the March primary, Pritzker took the top Democratic spot with $119 per vote. Rauner’s primary win cost $102 per vote.

Reform for Illinois supports some type of public financing for politics, and also pushes for more transparency so voters know who’s funding who and how the money flows.

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