The main political funds maintained by Democrats and Republicans have more than $68 million, according to an analysis by Scott Kennedy, who runs the website Illinois Elections Data.
“The amounts of money we’ve seen are so surprisingly large,” Kennedy said. “It’s far different from previous cycles.”
Governor Bruce Rauner has effectively upped the ante on fundraising. Almost immediately after his election, in 2014, he added $20 million to his campaign fund— collected from just three households.
Since then, Rauner and a few mega-donors have added millions more to a few allied groups.
“These are sums that seem very significant to us,” Kennedy said. “But they’re demonstrating that, not only do they have the ability to raise this, but apparently it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Kennedy says Democrats are keeping pace so far, primarily with donations from labor groups and trial lawyers.
However, Rauner has continued to add to his stockpile. Since late February, Rauner personally made four donations totaling $4.7 million.
Doing so, even while his campaign fund sits on millions of dollars, sends a message, says Kent Redfield, a political scientist retired from the University of Illinois at Springfield, who studies money in Illinois politics.
“The governor is essentially saying, ‘I’ve got an unlimited bank account — almost — and another two years, so we can basically keep doing this forever,” Redfield said.
Rauner has been locked in political stalemate with Democrats, especially Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Neither Redfield nor Kennedy thinks it’s likely that Republicans will take control of the state’s House of Representatives. In the Illinois Senate, not enough seats are contested by Republican candidates for a GOP takeover to be mathematically possible.
Rather, Redfield says the governor likely hopes “to add more pain” for Democrats.
“There’s been a lot of pressure on the Democratic legislators and leaders from the budget crisis,” he said. “Having to go through some very tough, very expensive elections, certainly there’s a hope on the governor’s part that the cumulative impact will be more Democrats willing to come to the bargaining table in ways the governor is willing to accept.”
The $68 million that Kennedy shows on hand for the upcoming elections does not include funds collected by “independent expenditure committees,” also called Super-PACs. Rauner and conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein donated a combined $4 million to one such group, Liberty Principles PAC, in July.
Before Rauner’s 2014 campaign, million-dollar individual donations were rare in Illinois politics: Only two had ever been made, according to data from the State Board of Elections .
Rauner himself donated more than $25 million to his own 2014 campaign, and took in another $10 million in million-dollar-plus increments.
Dan Weissmann is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him @danweissmann.