2014 was supposed to be the year for reform in campaign fundraising for the Illinois governor's race. But then Republican candidate, Bruce Rauner, started spending millions of dollars of his own money, automatically lifting the caps for all individual donations in the governor's race.
"We anticipated, because of the contribution limits, that you would limit the cost of the elections," said Illinois Board of Elections Executive Director Rupert Borgsmiller. "But when you lift the caps, then you're back to playing under the old rules."
Then last week, Rauner hit the mother load receiving a $2.5 million donation from Chicago hedge fund CEO Kenneth Griffin.
"We would get large donations. They would come from the PACs and other political committees, but to say they were in excess like the $2.5 million that has been received," Borgsmiller said. "I can't remember anything of that size."
Just what would $2.5 million get you? It would be enough to pay for 69,000 professionally-laminated campaign signs. If you were a family of four spending $1,000 of groceries each month, it could keep you on budget for 200 years. It would fill the average gas tank for more than 400 years.
Senator Don Harmon (D), who helped craft the new new rules as part of the Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force, says it put in the amendment to lift limits to help others compete against wealthy self-funded candidates.
"And that creates a horribly un-level playing field where someone with millions of dollars can wade into an election and distort the outcome by spending personal wealth," Harmon said. "We need some counterbalance to that."
Democrat Pat Quinn has many six figure donations, but Rauner's mega-donation eclipses all of what Quinn brought in for individual contributions in the first quarter.
"They raise real questions about what kind of government we will have. Government by the wealthy is not what I think most folks in Illinois want."
But with millions in six- and seven-figure donations flowing into each candidate's campaign war chests, it may be exactly what the state gets. With large donations, reformers are concerned about millions of dollars flowing into outside groups which are not monitored.
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