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updated: 10/21/2010 12:12 AM

Parties spending big on 56th District race

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  • Michelle Mussman

    Michelle Mussman

  • Ryan Higgins

    Ryan Higgins

  • Big party, PAC money in 56th District

    Graphic: Big party, PAC money in 56th District (click image to open)

By Joel Ebert

56th District state House hopefuls Michelle Mussman and Ryan Higgins agree the state needs stricter limits on how much a candidate can receive from political parties and leadership.

But recently filed campaign finance records show both have taken significant amounts from their respective parties.

Mussman, a Democrat from Schaumburg, is ahead of Higgins in campaign fundraising, thanks largely to the $307,000 in reported contributions from the Democratic Party of Illinois and House Speaker Michael Madigan's campaign committee. Overall she has raised $592,989, including $108,551 in the most recent reporting period, state records show.

Higgins, a Republican from Schaumburg, has received more than $250,000 in contributions from political action committees, nearly half of the $525,657 in itemized donations reported to the state.

Much of the funding comes from Stand for Children, a PAC supporting education reform measures, which gave him $175,000, records show. Higgins has received nearly $165,00 from Republican leadership and the party, including almost $40,000 since the beginning of last week, disclosures indicate.

Officials from both parties cite the importance of the district and the excitement generated by their candidates as major factors for the latest contributions.

"Ryan is one of the best of the best," said Pat Brady, Illinois Republican Party chairman. "We need new faces, and he is a great face of the party."

"The district is currently represented by a Democrat," said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan. "And Michelle is a terrific candidate."

Running for elected office for the first time, Mussman sees the party as way to make connections with contributors.

"If you are an unknown, how do you make connections that give you enough money?" Mussman said. "The party helps you reach other constituencies that share your interests."

Despite the Madigan contributions, Mussman stresses her independence, saying the donations will not influence her decisions.

"I have made it clear from the beginning that I don't agree with everything he is doing," Mussman said.

Higgins said he would support capping donations from parties, while Mussman supports enforcing limits on party leadership.

"It would improve the tenor of campaigns," Higgins said.

Although both candidates continue to receive contributions from groups they hope to limit in the future, at least one reform group understands their position.

"I don't really expect anyone in this environment to unilaterally disarm," said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "The question is, given the situation, how do you guarantee your independence and what are you going to do to change things."

Canary stressed the importance of candidates like Mussman and Higgins following through on their pledges to enforce stricter contribution limits once elected.

"I think what we need to do is a concerted push on those (reform) candidates, no matter who gets elected," she said.

Mussman and Higgins are vying for the 56th District seat currently held by retiring state Rep. Paul Froehlich. The district includes most of Schaumburg and Roselle, and parts of Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Rolling Meadows, Hanover Park and Bloomingdale.