With this latest independent expenditure disclosure Illinois United for Change has now spent more than $100,000 in the 22nd House race supporting Jason Gonzales/opposing Mike Madigan thereby exceeding the threshold needed to lift the campaign contribution limits for all candidates in this race for the remainder of the primary election cycle. This means that the Speaker's candidate committee, Friends of Michael J. Madigan, can now raise unlimited funds, an advantage not shared by the candidate committees of any of the other three legislative leaders.
The affected timeframe may be brief, the primary election cycle ends in two weeks, but the impact of this may be significant. Candidate committees can make unlimited transfers to party committees and during the general election party committees can make unlimited transfers to candidate committees. For the next two weeks the Speaker can raise unlimited funds into his candidate committee, he can then transfer as much of that as he'd like to the State Party (which he also controls) and come fall he can then use those State Party funds to either make expenditures on behalf of his candidates in targeted races or make unlimited transfers to those candidate committees.
The Governor took advantage of a similar opportunity at the end of 2014. In the 2014 Governor's race the contribution limits were lifted due to the large amount of self funding from Bruce Rauner, however the Governor's campaign committee was scheduled to be subject to contribution limits once again at the start of January 2015. After Bruce Rauner was elected Governor but before he took office he turned his attention to the General Assembly. One day prior to the contribution limits going back into effect his main campaign committee, Citizens for Rauner, added $20 million from three contributors: 1) Bruce Rauner, $10 million, 2) Ken Griffin, $8 million, 3) Richard Uhilein, $2 million. Here's what that money is intended to be used for according to Greg Hinz in Crain's, who was given the scoop:
The money won't be spent on his re-election campaign in 2018 but to help him pass legislation this spring through a General Assembly in which Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.
"There are a lot of legislators who he is going to be asking to make a lot of tough decisions," said one Rauner insider who asked not to be named. "The intent is to build a large and effective political operation in order to pursue his agenda."
Some of the money may be donated directly to legislators' campaign committees and other funds spent on their behalf. TV ads, polling and other activity on behalf of Rauner policies also is expected, the insider said. And the war chest only is "the first in a series," part of a "multipronged effort" in which other funding vehicles will be formed, the source said. "This is the tip of the iceberg."
Since that time the Democrats, particularly in the House, have been aggressively fundraising to try to catch up. In 2015 the four funds controlled by the Speaker raised $7.7 million, Cullerton's three funds raised $5.1 million while the Senate and House Republicans each raised about $1.6 million and the Illinois Republican Party raised about $500K. In addition to leadership fundraising the House Democrats have been very aggressively raising large sums into the various candidate committees of the candidates they expect to face targeted general election races, particularly in the 4th quarter of 2015. Aside from the legislative leaders only one other Republican campaign committee raised over $100K last quarter (Jil Tracy) whereas 19 other Democratic campaign committees raised more than $100K including 11 House committees over $247K and 3 over $500K. The Democrats were busy raising money into every door available, now though the Speaker can focus on his own interests and raise unlimited sums during this very brief window for the next two weeks until election day.
If the Republicans want to try to maximize the same advantage they have opportunities as well. The contribution limits are off in the 72nd and 114th House as well as the 26th and 50th Senate races where they have candidates. If they want to go the coordinated route and they had an agreeable candidate they could raise unlimited sums into a candidate committee and then transfer those funds into the State Party. If they aren't concerned about coordination they could simply raise unlimited sums into the Governor's independent expenditure committee, Turnaround Illinois, and then spend that money independent of the candidates involved. Turnaround Illinois finished 2015 with $2.6 million on hand and just the other night the Governor personally contributed another $2 million. Plus the Governor still has $20 million in his main campaign committee that he has pledged to use to support his allied candidates in the General Assembly.
The contribution limits that went into effect for Illinois elections in 2011 have done little to stem the tide of money flowing into our electoral system. Instead we have a much more convoluted process where the money is coming in through a much larger number of vehicles making it harder to track and some competitors find themselves raising money by an unequal set of rules. For a short time the Speaker will be able to raise unlimited funds, an advantage not shared by President Cullerton or Leaders Radogno and Durkin. The Republican leaders' disadvantage is somewhat offset by the Governor's deep pocketed supporters and his flush campaign funds. Meanwhile President Cullerton will have to try to keep up while only being able to raise money in limited amounts, unless he cuts a deal with the Speaker to work together to financially support all of the legislative Democratic candidates. Given the amount of money the Governor has pledged to support Republican General Assembly candidates can he afford not to?
If you are a wealthy Democratic donor your phone is about to ring, the Speaker will be calling. In fact he's likely to be on the phone non-stop for the next two weeks focused on big (very big) checks. The window for the Speaker is now wide open in a way that isn't for his peers and history suggests that he's likely to press his advantage, we'll keep track of the results and update you on the progress.
Note: there are two scenarios where the contribution limits can be lifted 1) when a candidate's self funding exceeds the threshold and 2) when an independent expenditure committee's independent expenditures exceed the threshold, and they appear to be treated differently. If the contribution limits are lifted during a primary because of self funding (#1) the contribution limits are lifted for both the primary and the general election, however the section of the law on lifting contribution limits in a primary due to independent expenditures (#2) is silent on the general election so it only appears to apply to that current election cycle. In this scenario for the 22nd House the contribution limits are being lifted because of scenario 2 so the lifting of the contribution limits appears to only apply to the primary. Had they been lifted for both the primary and general the advantage to the Speaker would have been even greater.