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Reformers: It's Time to Rework Illinois' Campaign Spending Rules

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A story published this week on millionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner highlights his unprecedented self-funded campaign, prompting some to call for campaign-finance reforms. Credit: Illinois.gov
A story published this week on millionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner highlights his unprecedented self-funded campaign, prompting some to call for campaign-finance reforms. Credit: Illinois.gov
December 4, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Never have so few people given so much campaign money in the modern history of Illinois politics. That's the big takeaway of a New York Times profile this week of millionaire Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's run for office last year.

The Times found that Rauner's funders took advantage of a state law that is supposed to level the playing field for candidates with less money. Instead, it allowed Rauner's allies to spend lavishly.

David Melton, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said this is one of the clearest signs that it's time to fix the state's campaign-finance rules.

"The problem is very simple," he said. "It's that when politicians are dependent on a very small sliver of people to get re-elected, that's whose voices and concerns they pay attention to and listen to."

Using numbers compiled by the ICFR, the Times investigation showed that the average campaign contribution in last year's general election tripled that of the year before.

At issue is an Illinois law that removes limits on campaign contributions once a wealthy candidate pumps lots of money into his or her own race. Rauner did just that, and Melton said that's when his rich allies were able to pile on even more money, to the tune of about $30 million.

"The amount of money necessary to participate in the political process as a candidate has been upped by an order of magnitude, about 10 times," Melton said. "Rauner and his friends have raised the stakes in elections from being in the single-digit millions to the tens of millions of dollars."

What's the solution to actually level the campaign playing field?

Melton pointed to places such as Seattle and Maine, where voters last month backed campaign-finance reforms. These alternatives include making it possible for candidates to get public funds instead of relying on unlimited private spending. Melton said the issue is starting to cross party lines.

"There are actually a number of Republicans and conservatives who now recognize the problems with the campaign-finance system," he said, "and there are groups on the right that are beginning to advocate for campaign-finance reform just as there are groups on the left."

The New York Times article is online at nytimes.com. ICFR funding numbers are at illinoissunshine.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL