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updated: 3/3/2014 7:20 PM

Rauner spreading money around other candidates, groups

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  • Clockwise from top left, Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bruce Rauner are seeking the Republican nomination for governor in the March 18 primary.

      Clockwise from top left, Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, Dan Rutherford and Bruce Rauner are seeking the Republican nomination for governor in the March 18 primary.

 
 

As Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner continues to pump more of his own money into his primary run for governor -- including another $1 million Monday -- he's also been spreading the wealth to candidates and Republican organizations across the suburbs and state, perhaps winning influence that might pay off later.

But some state lawmakers say forgetting his harsh rhetoric toward them will require more than just money. And the spending has fueled criticism from his opponents that the first-time candidate is trying to buy the election.

Since the start of last year, Rauner and his wife have given more than $275,000 to Republican candidates, GOP groups and conservative causes, state campaign records show.

In February alone, the Rauners gave $2,000 to the Republican Central Committee of McHenry County, $4,600 to state Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills, and $10,600 to Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs. They also sent $5,500 to four county GOP organizations downstate after having given to dozens more in the last 14 months.

Rauner's fundraising power and personal wealth have allowed him to both run extensive TV ads and share with others at a time when his opponents -- state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa -- have aired barely any similar commercials yet.

Criticisms of Rauner's spending have been a theme of the campaign for months, with his opponents sometimes pointing to the failed statewide bids of other well-heeled Illinois candidates who lost races despite their heavy spending.

"It is votes in a grass-roots operation that win elections, not money," Dillard told a public radio station in November. "And to our credit in this state, both political parties have never let a gazillionaire like Rauner who has made millions of dollars off of public pension systems ever buy an election."

Rauner's investment firm helped manage the state's pension funds.

He has tried to portray his largesse as an effort to unite the Republican Party at a time when Illinois is controlled by Democrats at the highest levels of government.

"While Bruce is directly supporting some individual candidates, he knows the importance of a strong Republican Party in Illinois and is committed to make it much stronger," Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.

While the eventual GOP nominee for governor is fighting against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in the race to the November election, Republicans across the state will be trying to bolster their relatively meager ranks at the Illinois Capitol.

The GOP in Illinois has longed for the benefits that come to the party by holding the governor's office.

And the uphill battle to win seats at the Capitol is an effort that could be significantly boosted by significant amounts of money.

"It wouldn't hurt," said House leader Durkin, who will help lead that charge.

He said he isn't backing a candidate for governor and hopes whoever is nominated will help with legislative races as well.

"We need to coordinate efforts," Durkin said.

For now, Durkin is fighting to protect a pair of DuPage County incumbent lawmakers, state Reps. Sandra Pihos of Glen Ellyn and Ron Sandack of Downers Grove, from serious primary challenges.

Conservative talk show host Dan Proft has been spending thousands of dollars on mailers in both races to support challengers Peter Breen of Lombard and Keith Matune of Downers Grove. Rauner hasn't picked sides in those races via campaign donations.

Election records show Rauner has given more than $7 million to his campaign and others since 1998, including to Democrats like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in 2001, contributions that have rankled some conservatives.

Since he's started running this time, Rauner has given money to organizations in every suburban county, including Cook, where the county party endorsed him. That led to charges of "pay-to-play" from Dillard that Rauner brushed off.

He also gave to suburban GOP groups, including $1,000 each to the Schaumburg Township Republicans and the Palatine Township party last year, both of which eventually endorsed him this year. But cash and endorsements didn't always align. The Downers Grove Township Republican Organization got $500 from Rauner last year but endorsed Dillard.

The venture capitalist has run a campaign lambasting the officials of both parties in Springfield, calling the legislature "corrupt" while also saying he'll work with lawmakers to get things done if elected.

"Probably a third, maybe more, of the Republicans in Springfield have sold out to the government union bosses," Rauner told the Daily Herald editorial board this month.

The constant harsh rhetoric means healing wounds Rauner inflicts during the campaign is going to take something other than campaign money, said state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.

"Since he's criticized virtually every member of the legislature, he would have to donate to every member of the legislature to get back into their good graces, Democrats and Republicans alike," Harris said in jest.

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