Pols stay in power by amassing war chests
by RUSS STEWART
If you can’t raise it, you won’t win it. Bruce Rauner spent $70 million to win the Illinois governorship in 2014, and Rahm Emanuel spent more than $25 million to get re-elected as Chicago’s mayor this year. For top-level contests, big money means big media.
For lower-level contests, where the Democrats are dominant and the Republicans not competitive, the critical money is spent in the primary election, and, particularly for incumbents, the amount raised is a telltale sign of ambition and intent.
First, a bulging campaign account is intimidating. That means that any challenger must spend voluminous amounts of time raising money in order to be competitive. Emanuel’s ability to spend $17,314,975 in just 3 months spelled Chuy Garcia’s doom.
As shown in the adjoining chart, several legislators have amassed huge war chests. State Senators John Mulroe (with $415,015 on hand), Don Harmon ($488,564) and Heather Steans ($225,714) and state Representatives Lou Lang ($1,242,523) and John D’Amico ($310,131) have already blown away any opposition in 2016.
Second, having a bundle of campaign cash is a statement that says, "I’m an insider, I’ll stay an insider, and if you want to be an insider, you’d better donate a whole lot real quick." Money begets more money, or in Rauner’s case, having $19.7 million tells the world that he’s going to do it his way.
Third, raising more and more money is a tip-off to ambitions for a higher office. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has almost $2.1 million on hand, which is seed money for her expected 2018 gubernatorial bid.
A few years ago, in the "pre-Rauner Age," having $2 million on hand was awesome. Now it’s mundane. Rauner has 10 times more money than Madigan, and it’s only 2015, and he has raised $699,846 to $171,199 for Madigan this year. Rauner’s pals also created a Turnaround Illinois political action committee, funded with $11 million, and Rauner has inaugurated the "Unending Campaign." He’s constantly on prime time television, imploring voters to help him "shake up Springfield."
Finally, some incumbents are in their rocking chair. Sheriff Tom Dart, long rumored as a candidate for mayor or state office, had $309,441 on hand, but he raised only $23,170. Ed Burke Jr., until recently the assistant chief deputy sheriff, left to work for county Homeland Security. His father, Alderman Ed Burke, has $8,672,934 on hand, ready and waiting for his son’s 2018 run for sheriff. Another chair rocker is county Treasurer Maria Pappas, who has raised $2 and who had $48,295 on hand.
The 2016 countywide candidates’ fundraising has been desultory. Anita Alvarez, who will faces Kim Foxx, a Toni Preckwinkle protege, and county Commissioner John Fritchey in the March 16 primary, has raised only $121,100 this year. If, as expected, the slatemakers make no endorsement, she will be desperate for money. Alvarez won the six-candidate 2008 primary with 25.8 percent of the vote. She has never tried to ingratiate herself with party leaders. Clerk of Court Dorothy Brown had only $33,780 on hand, and Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough had $65,958. Jacob Meister, an attorney, is challenging Brown.
Statewide, the only office besides U.S. senator on the ballot is comptroller, to fill Judy Baar Topinka’s vacancy. Evanston state Senator Dan Biss (D-9) has raised $534,930 this year, and he has more than $1.2 million on hand. His primary foe is City Clerk Susana Mendoza, who had $381,741 on hand and who is backed by the Mike Madigan machine. The appointed incumbent, Leslie Munger, is Rauner’s candidate, but she had a paltry $113,435 on hand. Not to worry. Rauner will come to the rescue. The early outlook is that Munger would have a better chance of beating Mendoza than Biss.
Then there’s that great big, beautiful 2019 mayoral election, the Disneyland of Chicago politics, and there will be plenty of Mickey Mouses, Dopeys and Goofys queuing up. There is no doubt that Emanuel could raise another $25 million, but there is enormous doubt that he can painlessly solve the city’s intractable fiscal and pension problems before 2019. Property tax increases and budget cuts are inevitable. Emanuel will be the scapegoat. He is a two-termer.
Like termites on a log, a bunch of politicians are scurrying and digging to build a base. Garcia, who had $67,324 on hand after having spent $4,121,313, will take another crack. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle would unite the black base and would be formidable. She had $515,020 on hand, but she likely will back Alderman Will Burns. The preeminent "organization" candidate will be Alderman Brendan Reilly, from the Loop/Gold Coast 42nd Ward. He had $976,873 on hand, and he can raise lots more from his wealthy constituents and the business community. There will be a "progressive reform" candidate, either Alderman Scott Waguespack (who had $86,874 on hand) or Alderman John Arena ($31,836); one will defer to the other. There also will be a gay candidate, likely Alderman Tom Tunney (43rd), who had $261,116 on hand and who could raise lots more from the gay community.
With five or six men in the race, there is an opening for a woman, and at least two are angling to run. County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who represents a north Lakefront district and who has family ties to the 19th Ward, had $343,612 on hand — a nice start — and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Mariyana Spyropoulos, who had only $144,921 on hand but who can tap into Chicago’s affluent Greek community and raise a couple million dollars.
The goal in a field of seven or eight candidates is to get 20 to 22 percent of the vote and finish first or second, getting into the runoff. Money is critical in the primary, but once in the runoff, the dam bursts and everybody scrambles to donate to a possible winner. The early line: all the aspirants have a base big enough to amass 20 percent of the vote.
Then there’s the "Madigan-Cullerton Combine," with money derived from the Senate Democratic Victory Fund, the House Democratic Majority, the Democratic Party of Illinois and the Friends of Mike Madigan. They had a combined $2,733,550 on hand, and had raised $1,653,458. Their task for 2016 is to make sure the Democrats keep their veto-proof three-fifths majorities. By mid-2016 they’ll be sitting on $10 million.
Follow the money. It leaves a clear trail as to who is going where, and when.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.