With a week to go until the Nov. 2 election, 10 legislative races three of them in the suburbs have passed the $1 million mark in terms of fundraising dollars, putting them among the most expensive campaigns in Illinois history.
These races are not only costly, but fueled primarily by party cash, relying far more heavily on Democratic and Republican leaders for financial support than on voters.
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The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform which last week released its own analysis of contributions points to campaigns' reliance on party contributions as evidence that further campaign finance reform is needed.
"It kind of turns the election into a proxy fight," said David Morrison, deputy director of the Campaign for Political Reform, who advocates limiting party contributions.
"It's two parties duking it out over who's in control," he said. "That really distorts the point of elections, where voters are supposed to be choosing who best represents them."
A suburban state senator who sponsored campaign finance reform legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn last December says it's not that simple.
"You cannot constitutionally say that you may not spend money to advance a particular campaign," Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said. "Even if there were limits on parties contributing money to candidates, they would still spend it (in another way). It just wouldn't be disclosed as a contribution."
According to the Campaign for Political Reform's analysis of campaign finance disclosure in 20 legislative races, contributions from Democratic and Republican leaders and state-run parties account for, on average, 63 percent of receipts.
Looking strictly at suburban races, of the $750,000 in itemized contributions reported by 22nd District Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, $502,000 are from the Senate Democratic Victory Fund. Another $143,000 in donations have come from the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Noland's opponent, Republican Steve Rauschenberger, also of Elgin, has received $183,000 from the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee and $106,000 from the Illinois GOP.
With $1.48 million in fundraising combined between the two candidates, the Noland/Rauschenberger race is the second most expensive on the state level and the most expensive race in the suburbs, according to the Campaign for Political Reform. The downstate 49th District Senate race between Democrat Deanna Demuzio and Republican William "Sam" McCann ranks first with $2.43 million spent.
Spending in the 31st District Senate race in Lake County reached $1.15 million. Democrat Michael Bond of Grayslake has taken in nearly $600,000 from party leaders $410,000 from the Senate Democratic Victory Fund and $161,000 from the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Republican opponent Suzi Schmidt of Lake Villa was given $145,000 from the Illinois GOP and another $155,000 from the Republican State Senate Committee.
In the 66th House District, where spending totals $1.07 million, $282,000 of Democrat Michelle Mussman's $613,000 in itemized contributions came from the state Democratic Party, chaired by House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. Another $39,000 comes from the Friends of Michael J. Madigan fund. Republican opponent Ryan Higgins took in almost $130,000 from party leadership.
With so much campaign money coming from party leadership, Morrison says elections become distorted.
"The parties have millions of dollars, and they do play games putting $100,000 here to make the other party put resources there to match. It's a tactical board-game maneuver," he said.
Under the legislation Harmon sponsored, beginning Jan. 1 candidates must report contributions and expenditures four times a year, up from two times a year. Donations of $1,000 or more must be reported to the State Board of Elections within two business days.
Businesses, unions and associations are limited to giving $10,000 to any candidate during an election cycle and $20,000 to any political party, legislative caucus committee or political action committee.
Candidates, too, are limited in giving $50,000 to any other candidate or political action committee.
In the general election, however, they are allowed unlimited contributions to any political party or legislative caucus committee.
And while political parties and legislative caucus committees are limited in how much they can give to candidates in the primary, with the cap based on the level of office, the law allows for unlimited contributions to candidates during the general election.
Morrison called Harmon's legislation "a starting point."
He advocates limits on party and caucus contributions in the general election.
Harmon said that he's hesitant to work immediately for further reforms because "we don't know what the unintended consequences are."
For the general election, he said, "I just don't think there's any wisdom in enacting artificial limits. ... I wish constituents made up a larger share of contributions. But the sad fact is folks are disinterested or just don't have the wherewithal. We're spending money communicating with the voters. It's all very expensive."