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Money keeps flowing as Election Day nears

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Campaign 2016-Trump-Illinois

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters during a news conference Oct. 13 in Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD — Money continues to flow freely into races for the Illinois General Assembly as Election Day draws ever closer.

In the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, much of the campaign cash flowed through Illinois Republican Party, records filed last week with the Illinois State Board of Elections show.

The state GOP raised nearly five times as much as the Illinois Democratic Party, according to an analysis from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending. And of the nearly $16 million the Republican Party raised from July 1 through Sept. 30, $14.9 million came from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign fund.

By comparison, the Democratic Party raised just $3.3 million during the same period, though individual Democratic candidates raised much more.

The money that Rauner, a wealthy former venture capitalist, brought with him into politics has shifted the landscape of campaign fundraising in Illinois, which has long been dominated by the Democrats who’ve also controlled the Legislature.

Illinois Republicans’ newfound revenue stream “certainly has increased the overall spending numbers,” said Sarah Brune, executive director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

“It’ll be interesting to look at the end of the election cycle and sort of compare apples to apples,” Brune said, “but I think there’s been a consensus that this is an unprecedented year in both what the campaigns have taken in and what they’ve spent.”

A closer look at what’s being raised and spent in individual legislative races bears that out.

For example, the most expensive general election campaign for the Illinois House prior to this year was the 2014 race in which now-Rep. Terry Bryant, R-Murphysboro, defeated Democrat William Kilquist of Carbondale, according to records compiled by Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science the University of Illinois Springfield.

That race, which cost nearly $2.3 million, was one of three in 2014 that topped the previous record of just under $2.1 million, set in 2010.

Another of the record-breaking 2014 races was between Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, and Republican Jim Wozniak of East Moline. The race, which Smiddy won, totaled nearly $2.2 million.

While the final tally on what’s being spent this year won’t be available until mid-January, three House races have already brought in more than $2 million, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, with the contest between Rep. Daniel Beiser, D-Alton, and Republican Mike Babock of Bethalto bringing in a combined total of nearly $2.8 million.

Four others are approaching the $2 million mark, including the race between Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, and Republican Dave Severin of Benton, which has brought in more than $1.9 million.

The money has been moving so quickly and freely on both sides that one campaign finance expert has decided to let the dust settle before trying to total up the cost of this election.

Scott Kennedy, who runs the website Illinois Election Data, wrote last week that he wasn’t going to provide a breakdown on third-quarter fundraising because so much money had already come in since Sept. 30 and because much of the activity that’s taking place is actually money being transferred among the campaign funds of individuals and party committees.

He cited the example of the money Rauner contributed to the Republican Party, much of which was subsequently passed on to the GOP’s House and Senate campaign committees. Those committees, in turn, spent some of that money on behalf of candidates and transferred some directly their individual campaign funds.

Similar transfers have been taking place on the Democratic side, although with the money coming in from a wider variety of sources.

“The only way to correct for that is to pull up every expenditure for the quarter and go through them one by one to exclude the ones that were just transfers, a labor intensive and time consuming task that’s a poor use of time in mid-October of an election year,” Kennedy wrote, adding that he plans a final tabulation once fourth-quarter reports are filed in January.

Rauner and billionaire ally Ken Griffin, Illinois’ richest man, upped the ante late last week with combined donations totaling $14 million, state campaign disclosures show.

Whatever the final cost, the question that remains is whether all the money that’s being spent on TV and radio ads, mailers, and other expenses will be enough to shift the balance of power toward the Republicans or to strengthen the Democrats’ supermajorities in the House and Senate, said Redfield, the UIS political scientist.

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