TV-6 Investigates: Illinois election spending


ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) — No matter which side of the river you live on, the television airwaves and mailboxes have been filled with political ads. It’s election season after all, but the battle for power between Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan is front and center this election.

Illinois state government has been deadlocked with Democrats controlling the legislature and Republicans holding the governor’s mansion. Both parties are pouring millions into local races to swing the balance in their favor.

The Democrats hold a super majority in the Illinois House. But Republicans are trying hard to pick up two Quad City seats. Democrat Pat Verschoore is retiring, so his seat is up for grabs and Democrat Mike Smiddy won by only 314 votes two years ago, so his seat is seen as one that’s vulnerable. Spending on both sides has pushed into the millions.

Visiting Professor John Jackson at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University said, “It’s absolutely unprecedented in Illinois, it wasn’t long ago that we were passing the one million mark for a state legislative race, youv’e got to have a million now to even be hanging in and competitive.”

Jackson said the money race is very different this year, because of big donations by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and his allies.

“The Governor has been able to make the Republicans competitive on money really for the first time,” said Jackson.

State records show over 90 percent of the money raised by the Illinois Republican party has come from Rauner. Records show that money is pouring into Republican candidates like Tony McCombie in House District 71. Records show 80 percent of McCombie’s campaign is funded by the House Republican Organization and the Illinois Republican Party. She’s challenging Democrat Mike Smiddy. Records show half of the money he’s raised this year comes from the Democratic party.

KWQC Political Analyst Dr. Christopher Whitt said, “We’re talking about offices that make $60,000 dollars a year and they’re spending a million dollars.”

He said all this money can separate the candidates from the voters.

“What they do is measured against the big money and that may come in or may not come in,” said Whitt.

The big outside spending can also keep candidates in a race. In House District 72 Democrat Mike Halpin is taking on Republican Brandi McGuire for the open seat. State records show Halpin has raised over one million. State records show McGuire has raised over $50,000. But the records also show she’s benefited from $650,000 spent by a political action committee allied with Republicans.

Jackson said, “The basic rule is if you can be in the ballpark you don’t have to be exactly even, but if you can be, say at least 66 percent above what the other candidate is spending, you’re probably going to be competitive.”

Both Jackson and Whitt said lost in all this campaign money is the state’s budget crisis. The stop-gap budget expires in January. Whoever wins will need to sort out billions of dollars in spending and revenue the leaders couldn’t agree on.

This battle between Rauner and Madigan is largely seen as a preview to 2018 when the Governor faces re-election. The experts said get ready for more money and more mudslinging.

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