Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 30, 31 or Nov. 1
The race for Governor of Illinois will top $50 million, one of the priciest in the country, mirroring the national trend.
In the last 30 years, according to numbers from the Federal Election Commission and the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the money spent on election campaigns and outfits like Political Action Committees (PACs) has increased 500 percent – which outpaced cost escalations in health care (425 percent) and private college tuition (311 percent), much less the median household income (128 percent), according to a Time magazine analysis.
In Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner is outspending Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn by more than two-to-one, according to quarterly campaign finance reports filed last week. Rauner says he ponied up $20 million July through September, and Quinn reported raising $8 million.
“Some argue about which party benefits the most from the new Wild West of campaign finance, or claim that so long as both major candidates in an election are well-financed, our democracy is working the way it should,” said Abe Scarr, from the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “But that misses the forest for the trees: small donors’ voices are increasingly drowned out by large donors, and ordinary citizens are the ones who lose out.
“Mega-donors shouldn’t get louder voices because they have deeper pockets,” he added.
The scale of spending isn’t limited to gubernatorial candidates. The Attorney General’s race has Democratic incumbent Lisa Madigan with about $4.2 million and Republican candidate Paul Schimpf with $7,000. The Secretary of State’s contest has Democratic incumbent Jesse White with $770,000 and Republican opponent Mike Webster with $1,000.
For Treasurer, Republican Tom Cross reporting $600,000 on hand and Democrat Michael Frerichs $400,000. And the Comptroller’s contest has incumbent Republican Judy Baar Topinka with $1.4 million and Democratic challenger Sheila Simon with $100,000.
PIRG’s analysis focused on individual donations, so it doesn’t include self-financing, PACs or “dark money” contributions that aren’t publicly disclosed. According to campaign reports, Rauner added $7.5 million from his personal wealth in the third quarter, with another $3 million pitched in this month -- adding to about $10 million previously spent.
Put into context, just 426 contributors gave as much money as 13,315 small donors combined, PIRG shows, making Illinois 13th in the country as far as the disparity between donors.
Answers to the skewed-influence dilemma range from state campaign-finance laws and outright public financing (and limited spending) to tax credit or public matching funds for small donation and an amendment to the U.S. Constitution essentially overriding U.S. Supreme Court decisions (“Citizens United v. Federal Election Campaign”),” “McCutcheon v. Federal Election Campaign”)
“Even candidates and some donors themselves are tired of the fundraising grind,” said Rey Lopez-Calderon, Executive Director of Common Cause Illinois. “Public financing systems encourage participating candidates to connect with average voters. And with a robust matching system, candidates can tell regular voters – with confidence – that their small contribution will make a difference.”
David Melton, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), said, “While small donor matching systems are not a panacea for the multiple problems created by our current campaign finance system,” said “they offer a path toward a significant improvement by giving politicians the opportunity to rely on average voters to fund their campaigns rather than relying on the ultra-rich or special interest money.”
ICPR advocates Small Donor Democracy, a system where candidates who reach a certain level of funding from small contributions become eligible for matching public funds. It’s been used in some cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, but also in smaller municipalities, and at the state level in several states.
“Small Donor Democracy makes it possible to run competitive campaigns based on contributions from average citizens,” Melton explained. “It removes personal wealth and pandering to special interests as prerequisites, and with a diminished need for fund-raising, there can be greater emphasis on substantive debates. By implementing Small Donor Democracy in Illinois communities, we can promote greater citizen engagement, expand the diversity of candidates, encourage meaningful policy discussions, and call for leaders who are beholden to constituents rather than deep-pocket donors.”
[PICTURED: Cartoon by Daryl Cagle from cagle,com]