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updated: 10/29/2010 7:17 PM

14 state races pass $1 million fundraising mark

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It just keeps rolling in.

In a seven-day span, the number of state legislative races crossing the $1 million fundraising threshold has increased from 10 to 14.

They include the 22nd Senate race in the Fox Valley, the 31st Senate race in northern Lake County; the 66th House race in Arlington Heights and the 56th House race in Schaumburg.

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.

The million dollar election campaigns have accumulated a total of $19.7 million, and nearly two-thirds of the money came from campaign committees controlled by the state legislative leaders, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's analysis of candidate contribution reports.

The campaign noted that two years ago, only six state legislative races had passed the $1 million mark.

David Morrison, deputy director of the Campaign for Reform, says the numbers point to the need for additional campaign finance reform, on top of legislation that will be effective Jan. 1.

Under the legislation sponsored by Oak Park state Sen. Don Harmon, 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.

Among the contribution caps, businesses, unions and associations are limited to giving $10,000 to any candidate and $20,000 to any political party, legislative caucus committee or political action committee per election.

While political parties and legislative caucus committees are limited in how much they can give to candidates in the primary, the cap based on whether they are seeking statewide or district office, the law allows for unlimited contributions to candidates during the general election.

Morrison said his group supports additional limits to extend the limits on parties and leaders in the general election period.

"Because the obvious top priority for both the leader and candidate is to win election, leaders will not lean on members in swing districts to take votes that will hurt the legislator at the next election," he said. "But every member of the General Assembly knows that in the current system, money provided by leaders is essential in tight races. Every member knows that a few shifts of the political winds could land them in a hotly contested primary or general election. And if that should happen, it's the leaders who have the resources to help them through the troubles."

Yet Sen. Harmon questions whether that would work.

"You cannot constitutionally say that you may not spend money to advance a particular campaign," he 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."

Expensive suburban races

22nd Senate ($1.52 million)
• Mike Noland (D): $816,300
• Steve Rauschenberger (R): $701,600

31st Senate ($1.25 million)
• Michael Bond (D): $774,000
• Suzi Schmidt (R): $478,700

56th House ($1.17 million)
• Michelle Mussman (D): $668,300
• Ryan Higgins (R): $497,000

66th House ($1.1 million)
• Mark Walker (D): $670,900
• David Harris (R) $330,000

43rd House ($932,900*)
• Ruth Munson (R): $320,200
• Keith Farnham (D): $612,700

44th House ($740,700*)
• Billie Roth (R): $322,900
• Fred Crespo (D): $417,800

*Data as of Oct. 31

Source: Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, state board of elections