Rank-and-file Illinois legislators make $67,836 a year, plus per diem.
But the job application process can costs millions.
Between just three legislative races in Southern Illinois, six candidates raised roughly $10 million between March 16 and Nov. 8, the general election cycle.
These figures are according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which published a breakdown of the most 10 most expensive House races and five most expensive Senate races this cycle.
The rankings are by dollars raised rather than campaign contributions spent because expenditures data for the last month of the election will not be available until January.
Of the top 15 most expensive races in both chambers, seven broke the $4 million mark in money raised. Of the three Southern Illinois races ranking, more than $3.5 million was raised in two of those races, and more than $2.6 million in the other. The totals also include money spent in support of or opposing candidates in races by independent expenditure committees.
The funds raised by vote figures were reached by taking the total funds raised by a candidate and dividing that by the votes that candidate received.
The most expensive race in this region was between incumbent Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and Republican Dale Fowler, the mayor of Harrisburg. Fowler, who was the winner, raised $1.65 million, and Forby raised $2 million.
Combined, they raised $3.73 million, when money spent by independent expenditure committees is included, ranking it third among the five most expensive Senate races in Illinois. Forby raised $48 per vote to Fowler’s $31.
Sarah Brune, the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said her takeaway from the spreadsheet breaking down the races by funds raised per vote is that “the candidate who spends the most money is not always the winner.”
Next in line, as it relates to money raised in a legislative race in Southern Illinois, was the battle between incumbent Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, and Dave Severin, a business owner from Benton. Severin was the winner.
Combined, they raised $3.51 million. Statewide, the race for the 117th District ranked 7th of the 10 most expensive races.
Bradley raised just over $2 million and Severin raised about $1.49 million. That breaks down to Bradley raising $85 per vote, and Severin $55 per vote.
Driving up some of the costs this election season is that television ads — where most of the money goes — started earlier in the cycle than usual, well before Labor Day. Throughout the region, viewers of local television markets were inundated with campaign commercials, many of them highly negative and personal.
While successful fundraising is almost always part of the equation for a successful candidate, there seemed to be a point of oversaturation and diminishing return this year, Brune said. And success isn’t always measured by the size of one’s piggy bank.
“There are many other forces at play to organization on the ground, to national trends,” she said. For example, in Southern Illinois this cycle, Republican president-elect Donald Trump drove larger numbers of registered voters to the polls in many counties as compared to recent past presidential election cycles.
Coming in third of among the most expensive regional races was the 58th Senate District race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Dave Luechtefeld that was won by Republican Paul Schimpf, a retired Marine from Waterloo.
Former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a Democrat from Carbondale, raised $1.462 million compared to Schimpf’s $1.21 million. That breaks down to $39 per vote for Simon, and $21 per vote for Schimpf.
Combined, they raised $2.67 million, and ranked fifth statewide in terms of the amount of money raised in competitive Senate races.
Not ranking was the race between incumbent Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, and challenger Marsha Griffin, a Democrat from Jonesboro and the race between Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, and Jason Kasiar of Eldorado. The incumbents — Bryant and Phelps — won in both of those races.
Once spending totals are filed by the campaign committees, it’s likely to show the amount of money spent during the election cycle between the races combined is unprecedented for Southern Illinois.
But John Jackson, a visiting professor at the SIU Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, pointed out that for all the money that was spent on messaging, very little of it went to furthering the discussion on the real issues facing the state.
Most of the commercials were not about the candidates’ views and ideas on how to solve the budget, for example. Instead, the vast majority of the money appears to have been spent on ripping apart opposing candidates or, in some cases, attempting to tie them in various and largely untenable ways to sex offenders or other soft-on-crime policy positions.
Most of the money came from committees controlled and/or financed by party leaders, namely Gov. Bruce Rauner on the Republican side and House Speaker Michael Madigan, and to a lesser degree, Senate President John Cullerton, on the Democratic side.
At the end of the day, Democratic control of the General Assembly, which still remains, was only eroded slightly by the Republicans. Jackson said the bright spot he sees in all of this is that perhaps the outcome will signal that it’s time to get back to work finding common ground to tackle the serious financial issues facing the state.
“The question is, do the leaders on both sides decide, ‘Hey nothing really changed after all that effort and smoke and fire and bad names we called one another, so maybe it’s time to get serious and compromise and get on with passing a budget and revenues to support a budget?’” Jackson said.
“With so many close races across the state, we’re hopeful people can come together to focus on things like the budget and the pension issues we’re having in Illinois,” she said.
The 100th General Assembly will be sworn in on Jan. 11.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI