Pritzker, Rauner raised $255 million. Here's what they could have spent that money on.

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, and challenger J.B. Pritzker have raised more than a quarter-billion dollars for their campaigns.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, and challenger J.B. Pritzker have raised more than a quarter-billion dollars for their campaigns. Associated Press

Updated 11/6/2018 7:04 AM

Election Day is finally here. That means no more vile and insulting television commercials, no more unrelenting political robocalls, and no more unsightly clutter of campaign signs. It also brings about a realization that some folks spent a ton of money for nothing.

At the top of that heap will be whoever loses the race for Illinois governor.


Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker, the entrepreneur and billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, has raised more than $175 million, but $161.5 million of that money came from his own piggy bank, according to the Illinois Election Commission.

Pritzker ranks 251st on the Forbes ranking of the 400 richest Americans. That puts Pritzker seven spots higher than President Donald Trump (258), well ahead of Oprah Winfrey (298) and tied for fourth among billionaires named Pritzker. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a mere multimillionaire who made his money as a private equity executive, did not make Forbes' list. But Rauner raised nearly $80 million, $58 million of which was his own money, and the bulk of the remainder came from one wealthy donor.

Not that Rauner and Pritzker didn't use their money to give us eye-catching television ads at times, with toilets being busted, male candidates marrying each other, love declared for puppies and plenty of mean stuff about Donald Trump and Michael Madigan. But it's easy to envision other ways that more than a quarter-billion dollars raised by our two leading gubernatorial candidates might have been put to use.

With that $255 million war chest raised by the candidates, Illinois could have paid the annual salaries of 7,968 new teachers, or more, considering a bill to set the minimum annual teacher salary in Illinois at $32,000 next year was vetoed. Had they pooled their campaign money, the candidates could have hired 4,418 new Illinois State Police officers.

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If Pritzker and Rauner had used their campaign money instead to feed people, the pair could have funded the Greater Chicago Food Depository for the next two decades. Or they could have bought enough Portillo's chocolate cake to give every man, woman and child in Illinois a free slice on Election Day for the next six years.

The $255 million could have funded the Hesed House homeless shelter in Aurora for the next half century. Their combined campaign booty is 15 times more than the federal government spent this year to expand access to opioid treatment and enhance overdose prevention programs in Illinois.

With $255 million, the candidates could have paid to make seven "A Star is Born" blockbuster movies. Or they could have bought a ticket to that movie for every resident of Illinois, and given each another $10 to spend on popcorn and Junior Mints.

With that money, the candidates could have bought every man, women and child in Naperville a new iPhone X and still had enough money left over to buy every one of those residents a 12-cup Mr. Coffee machine, a set of Cards Against Humanity, a My Pillow, a 2018 Chicago Bears autographed football, a hardcover copy of John Grisham's best-selling "The Reckoning," a classic Weber Kettle Grill, an Endless Shrimp meal at Red Lobster, tickets to see David Sedaris at The Paramount Theatre in Aurora, a Chicago Architectural Foundation Center river cruise, dress circle seats to see the play "Hamilton," a 1.75-liter bottle of Jim Beam Bourbon, an Xbox One X, an S series Schwinn cruiser bicycle, a ceramic lawn gnome and a $20 bill.

If the candidates went to StubHub, they could have bought every ticket to every regular-season Bears home game at Soldier Field for the rest of this year, the entire next season and half of the 2020 season, and passed them out to fans.

According to research by Mother Jones magazine, Abraham Lincoln spent the equivalent of $2.8 million during his successful campaign to win the presidency in 1860. Rauner and Pritzker have raised enough to buy us 91 Lincoln presidencies, which would take us to the presidential election year 2384. Maybe by then, campaign reform will have led to a society where candidates can worry less about fundraising and more about their messages to voters.

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