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Ill. party leaders ante up for races

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is taking no chances.

Despite solid Democratic majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and President Barack Obama back on top of the ticket, campaign accounts that Madigan controls have raised and spent more than $6.5 million on the Nov. 6 election just in the past seven months.

That’s 50 percent more than the $4.3 million Madigan’s accounts collected and shelled out during the same period two years ago, a landslide year for Republicans nationally and one in which Democrats lost six seats in the House.

In all, 14 political funds controlled by or linked to the state’s two parties and its four legislative leaders have rung up $17 million in campaign expenses since the March 20 primary election.

One overriding reason for the increase is more legislative races to finance.

In a typical election year, no more than two-thirds of the Senate’s 59 seats are on the ballot. But the 2010 Census required redrawing legislative districts to reflect population shifts.

Democrats have the edge, because with control of the Legislature and governor’s office, they had the right to decide where the boundaries were drawn.

“We’re all up (for re-election). The whole General Assembly is running,” said Sen. William Haine, an Alton Democrat and decade-long incumbent facing a stiff challenge from Bethalto Republican Mike Babcock.

But even taking that into consideration, spending in the run-up to the election has come to $96,000 per legislative seat, compared to $80,000 in 2010 — and that’s only through Sept. 30, not counting the crucial final five weeks. Exact figures won’t be known until January, when the spenders release their next quarterly reports.

The figures comprise contributions that political candidates reported receiving from one of the funds, such as the Democratic Party of Illinois, Democratic Majority and Friends of Michael J. Madigan, all of which the Chicago Democrat controls. The Madigan-related contributions represent 38 percent of the combined $17 million collected by all the funds connected to him, Senate President John Cullerton, House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said House Democrats’ fundraising success is tied to their legislative success. Democratic leaders have been criticized for the state’s financial woes and last year’s income tax increase, but Madigan contends he’s had no cooperation from Republicans on fiscal problems. And Democratic majorities passed landmark measures approving civil unions and abolishing the death penalty, among others.

“We’ve been on the right side of many issues over the last couple of years,” Brown said. “Maybe people respect and reward good government decision-making.”

At least, Madigan has a more hospitable atmosphere for collecting cash this time around.

David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform noted that in the fall of 2010, the ticket was led by an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate, Alexi Giannoulias, who lost to Republican Mark Kirk — in contrast to a ticket led by Obama this year. That fall, Democrats also had to deal with the shadow of the first corruption trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, which ended in a hung jury in August on most charges against him but also with prosecutors’ vow to retry him, which was ultimately successful.

Republicans nationally pounded Obama’s Democrats in the midterm election and party chairman Madigan’s 22-seat House majority shrunk.

“It was a difficult environment,” Morrison said. “I would imagine the chair of the Democratic Party would want to staunch the bleeding and turn things around, so that could be what’s driving him this time.”

As in previous years, some of the funds are shifted between committees. For example, the Senate Democratic Victory Fund shows contributions of $1.9 million, but $1.6 million of that went to the Democratic Party of Illinois. The party fund paid mail costs for 17 Senate candidates because party committees get a discounted rate, Morrison said.

Leading the Senate’s list of Democratic Party fund recipients is Haine at $193,000 for mailing. But that’s a small portion of his $1.4 million total, according to the Campaign for Political Reform. Haine noted he’s raised most of his own money from a variety of business, labor, and other community interests. He said he needed it for the pricey cost of television time on St. Louis stations.

“I’ll tell you, they jack these prices up the nearer it gets to the election,” Haine said. “If you don’t reserve time a month ago, it goes way, way up.”

Rep. Carol Sente of Vernon Hills, who’s raised $800,000, according to the political reform group, is the Democrat in the only race that features two incumbents because of the new map. She’s up against Rep. Sidney Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican.

Sente is the top House beneficiary of the Democratic Party account at $357,000 — again, mostly for postage and mailing. Another $105,000 for polling and salaries for campaign workers has come from Madigan’s caucus fund, Democratic Majority.

Sente and Haine are at opposite ends of the state but part of the same phenomenon, a side effect of the new legislative map. Not only does the election cost more with every seat up for grabs, it costs more to defend or challenge incumbents in sometimes-new territory where officeholders face unfamiliar voters, said Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

So while Latino growth in the traditionally Republican “collar” counties around Chicago has given Democrats reason to be optimistic about making gains there, Redfield said, they find themselves working harder on defense to keep downstate seats which, with fewer voters in them, grow larger and more diverse.

“It was hard to draw completely safe Democratic districts downstate,” Redfield said. “They (Democrats) did get to draw the map but they have to make the best out of what becomes a very bad situation downstate.”


Contact John O’Connor at



Illinois Campaign for Political Reform:

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