By Jamey Dunn
As Democrats and Republicans battle it out in close races across the state, they are expected to break records for raising and spending campaign cash.
The candidates vying for governor likely will have spent more combined cash than any other gubernatorial race in Illinois history, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).
The watchdog group projects spending by Gov. Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger, Sen. Bill Brady, will add up to about $30 million. The current record for the main party candidates is $23.7 million, set in 2006 by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and current Republican candidate for comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Spending by independent candidate for governor Scott Lee Cohen, Libertarian Lex Green and the Green Party’s Rich Whitney would bring the total spending for the race up to a projected $33 million.
Blagojevich was the big spender in the 2006 race, shelling out $16.6 million, and holds the spending record for a single candidate in an Illinois general election. Brady may break that record this year. The ICPR estimates that his spending could reach $17 million. However, Brady’s final spending totals will not be available until the campaign files an expenditure report in January.
Brady brought in $6.5 million from the Illinois Committee of the Republican Governors Association. David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said he was expecting Republicans to make a strong spending effort in this election even before Brady was the nominee because they saw an opportunity to grab power in one branch of Illinois government. “The Republicans were going to make a very serious run at that office, just because they had to have the governor’s office to have a voice in lawmaking.”
He said a year ago, he never would have projected that Republicans could gain control of one of the chambers of the General Assembly, but that now seems possible, as well.
Candidates for the General Assembly are also breaking cash records. The number of races in which candidates raised more than $1 million is up to 15 and has broken the record of 11 in 2006. In the 2008 general election, only six races hit the $1 million mark.
The ICPR estimates that the race between Democratic Sen. Deanna Demuzio and Republican Sam McCann, both of Carlinville, for the 49th District Senate seat will set a new record for spending in an Illinois Senate race. The two are projected to spend more than $2.6 million. The current record is $2.3 million.
Demuzio has raised $1.7 million, with $1 million coming from Senate President John Cullerton. McCann has $818,000, with more than half coming from Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.
Democrat Mike Smith and Republican Michael Unes are poised to break the more than $1.6 million spending record for a two-candidate Illinois House race with more than $1.8 million raised between them.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Kilbride’s bid to be retained for another 10-year term is the most expensive retention race in Illinois history and the second most expensive ever in the nation. Kilbride raised more than $3.2 million, while those trying to knock him off the bench — primarily JUSTPAC, the political committee for the Illinois Civil Justice League — have raised almost $700,000.
Candidates in the 25 state legislative races the ICPR characterizes as “in play” raised $24.8 million. More than 65 percent of that, or $16.7 million, came from legislative leaders or political parties.
“I think it explains why the leaders were so reluctant to limit their own giving [during recent pushes for campaign finance reform],” Morrison said.
He added that rank-and-file legislators have little motivation to change a system where, for the most part, political parties and legislative leaders hold the purse strings because that is what got them elected. “They may have decided to run for election because they care about taxes or jobs or whatever, but the one thing they share is, they know how to circulate petitions, knock on doors and win elections.”