“Spend-To-Stay” Alive and Well in Illinois


Written by Russ Stewart

Remember that old verity, you get what you pay for? Often, you don’t. In Illinois politics, however, you pay for what you get, and the candidate who pays the most is the candidate who gets.

Bruce Rauner is Illinois’ governor because during 2014 he raised $78,191,560 and spent $58,426,802. Roughly $25 million of his receipts came from his own pocket. Self-funding, in essence, bought him the governorship.

Rauner beat Pat Quinn 1,823,627 to 1,681,343, getting 50.3 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of a margin of 142,284 votes. Rauner’s cost per vote was $32.03. Quinn raised $26,373,276 during 2014 and spent $30,179,983. His cost per vote was $17.95. Numerous political action committees weighed in with another $20 million in “independent expenditures,” with negative mailings and television ads, as did the parties’ respective national committees and governors’ associations. The total amount spent in the Rauner-Quinn contest was approximately $125 million.

Quinn beat Bill Brady 1,745,219-1,713,385 in 2010, with 47.0 percent of the vote. Quinn spent $25 million and Brady spent $15 million Rauner nearly quadrupled Brady’s spending, enabling him to exploit voters’ fatigue with Quinn.

The clear message sent by the Rauner-Quinn result is that anybody can grow up to be governor, as long as they can spend about $25 million of their own money and raise another $60 million from their rich buddies and special interest group supporters. They call Illinois the “Land of Lincoln.” In reality, like everywhere else in America, it’s the “Land of Those Who Have Money,” either their own or other people’s money.

Democrats love to bemoan the fact that, as they allege, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. We need more income redistribution, they wail, and Barack Obama subscribes to that philosophy. “Tax the wealthy,” they demand. Then why, in Illinois, do the Republicans — the supposed party of the “rich” — raise so much less than the Democrats? Why do rich people and affluent businesses give money to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton? Why can they keep their respective super majorities when Illinois’ finances are crumbling?

Madigan, as both the speaker and the state Democratic Party chairman, raised $12,583,764 during 2014 through his three committees, the Friends of Michael Madigan, the Democratic Party of Illinois and the Democratic Majority Fund. That enabled Madigan to maintain his 71-47 veto-proof super majority (with more than 60 percent of the House seats). The Republicans made gains at the state legislative level everywhere in the country in 2014, but not in Illinois. At least 10 Democratic state representatives were targeted by the Republicans; Madigan pumped nearly $600,000 into each district, and every Democrat prevailed. Those winning Democrats owe their victory to Madigan’s money, and they will vote as they are told.

Cullerton’s Senate majority is 39-20, another veto-proof super majority. Cullerton, through his own committee and the Senate Democratic Victory Fund, raised $5,143,039, which he used to defend five seats; he lost just one.

That largesse was not composed of nickels and dimes from what Democrats call “working class families.” It was from corporations, lawyers, doctors, unions and every special interest that wants to maintain the Springfield status quo, and they got what they paid for: business as usual. No tax hikes, no spending cuts, no pension reforms. As the state goes bankrupt, everybody lives in a fantasy world, and now they’ve got the perfect scapegoat in Rauner. “He’s making hurtful cuts,” state bureaucrats and social service providers groan. “He’s cutting ‘necessary’ services.” These days, every government agency provides essential and critical services; no cuts are tolerated.

Well, the Democrats’ legislative majority can pass any spending or tax hike and override any veto. So they should do it, but that’s not how the Madigan/Cullerton combine works. All they care about is keeping their majority and their power. They are not going to put any of their puppet members at risk by having them vote for a tax hike, and they definitely are not going to canonize Rauner by having him veto it and override him.

After Rauner won, Springfield insiders presumed his “Shake Up Springfield” rhetoric was just that: campaign chatter for the gullible masses. He’s got to make deals, they agreed. He’ll be a collaborator, not a confrontationalist, they presumed. Then, with the Republican governor pressuring the Republican legislators to support tax and spending hikes, the Democrats’ puppets would have “cover” in 2016 and couldn’t be attacked as tax hikers. They’d keep their majorities through 2022, and in 2018, when Attorney General Lisa Madigan runs for governor, she could hypocritically blast Rauner as a tax hiker and a promise breaker, even though it was her father who made it possible. As they say, the best laid plans.

The Rauner who has shown up in Springfield has been no accomodationist, as were his Republican predecessors, Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan. He’s more like Wisconsin’s embattled Scott Walker, who cut state taxes by $651 million in 2 years and limited unions’ collective bargaining rights. Rauner is talking about right to work, the elimination of “fair share” union dues if an employee opts out of the union, no new taxes and cuts in the budget, decreasing funding for Medicaid, pensions, mental health, higher education, transportation and local government. What’s wrong with him? Why can’t Illinois keep spending money that it doesn’t have?

Rauner clearly understands his predicament: Should he give in, be collaborative, get beat anyway in 2018 and be derided as a weak-kneed, promise-breaking charlatan, or should he resist, keep his word, and make them beat him? Having spent $25 million of his own fortune to get to Springfield, so why not have some fun? As governor, he can easily raise $50 million and not have to self-fund the next campaign.

The secret of Madigan’s grasp on the speakership has been his ability to recruit controllable, electable candidates who have local roots and no negatives and who can be packaged properly, as some kind of fiscal conservative but social liberal. An example is former Des Plaines mayor Marty Moylan (D-55). The district is a 150-plus-year Park Ridge-Des Plaines-Elk Grove Republican bastion which Moylan won in 2012 after incumbent Republican (1992 to 2012) Rosemary Mulligan was knocked off the ballot, and then, despite being the Maine Township Republican committeeman, endorsed Moylan because his Republican foe, Susan Sweeney, was not pro-choice. Moylan beat Sweeney 21,321-18,711, with 53.3 percent of the vote, largely because Madigan spent $700,000 hyping him as Des Plaines’ fiscally tightwad mayor. Of course, getting the Rivers Casino in town, primarily through the efforts of past mayors, helps the revenue stream by $8.8 million annually.

That’s the “Madigan Magic” — pick a candidate who fits the district, bury the voters with mailings (at about $25,000 a pop) touting the thoughtful, frugal, independent-minded Democratic candidate, and hammer the Republican as kin to Attila the Hun. Fiction is entertaining, and usually successful. The 2014 Moylan-Mel Thillens race is illustrative. Madigan always strives to “localize” the House contests, while the Republicans want to “nationalize” them. Madigan makes the Democratic candidate a warm and fuzzy person, ignoring state issues such as the $170 billion in unfunded pension debt, the $45 billion in bonded debt and the $7 billion in unpaid Medicaid vendors, and instead demonizes the Republican.

In Springfield, Moylan was an obscure cog in the Madigan machine. He is there because of Madigan’s money, and he will stay there because of Madigan’s money. He votes as he is told. His 2014 Republican opponent was Park Ridge Park Board President Thillens. Springfield Republicans thought this was their best pick-up opportunity in Illinois. They thought wrong.

Amid a deluge of direct mail, Moylan prevailed 14,609-13,257, getting 52.4 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 1,352 votes, even though Rauner won the district. “It was total misinformation and misdirection,” Thillens said. Thillens, who runs his family’s armored car business, is right. Madigan’s mailers portrayed Moylan as the fiscally conservative mayor of Des Plaines from 2009 to 2012, boasting about his budget and job cuts. He was “Marty Nice Guy.” Thillens, conversely, was hammered as “reckless,” inasmuch as the park board’s tax revenues ($22.9 million) fell short of expenditures ($29.5 million), with the board’s bonded debt at $11.6 million. Who’s the “Republican” here?

According to campaign disclosure filings, Moylan raised $651,653 during 2014, while Thillens raised $241,851. Add in the staffers sent by the state Democratic Party, and the independent expenditures by political action committees such as the pro-abortion rights Personal PAC, and the real cost of re-electing Moylan hovers around $1 million. That makes the cost per vote for Moylan about $68.45, which is double Rauner’s cost, but for “Magic Mike,” cost is no object.

Of course, the 2011 Madigan/Cullerton-crafted remap helped. Of the 73 precincts in the 55th District, 69 are in the suburbs, with 41 in Maine Township and 24 in Elk Grove Township. The remap chopped north Park Ridge out of the district, making Des Plaines dominant. Moylan won his base 55-45, while Thillens took Park Ridge 55-45.

Thillens is gearing up for a 2016 rematch, as are most of the Republicans who lost narrowly in 2014, but the key to their future success is that Rauner cannot capitulate. He cannot raise taxes. If he does, the Republicans, as usual, are lost.

This article was originally posted at the RussStewart.com website.