Gubernatorial and attorney general elections most expensive yet
U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich, who secured the position of Illinois’ first Democratic governor in nearly 30 years, spent upwards of $16 million in his bid this election year.
When combined with Attorney General Jim Ryan’s $6 million spent on the campaign, the gubernatorial race receipts totaled nearly $23 million – $14 million to $15 million more than any gubernatorial race in Illinois’ past, according to the Sunshine Project, an Illinois campaign finance watchdog.
“It was a hugely expensive election,” said Sunshine Project director Kent Redfield. “They needed the money to run the TV ads, pay for direct mail and they spent a ton of money on get-out-the-vote field organizations.”
Redfield said that in 1998, Republican George Ryan reported a total of $10 million spent after the primary election in his bid for governor. Democrat Glenn Poshard spent $4 million, for a combined effort of $14 million in the ’98 Gubernatorial race.
He said a possible cause for the lavish spending on the Democratic side of the fence is the involvement of outside organizations.
“Democrats really haven’t been competitive,” Redfield said. “Groups that traditionally support Republicans, like medical organizations, jumped on the bandwagon with money contributions.”
Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said that as the bank totals climbed for each candidate, the focus was turned to fundraising instead of simple contributions.
“It raises the question of the circle – the sphere of influence, and it seems like a small circle of people who influence these elections,” she said.
In the race for attorney general, Democrat Lisa Madigan and Republican Joe Birkett spent a combined total of $8 million, a big jump from 1998 when Jim Ryan and Democrat Miriam Santos spent a combined $1.8 million in the general election. Birkett shelled out a little more than $2.5 million, and Madigan spent $6.2 million in her successful bid for the seat.
“That’s double what any candidate has ever spent in an attorney general race. They both had very expensive primaries,” Redfield said. “They have just blown away the records.”
The high spending of this race may affect future races, according to Redfield and Canary.
“This will also create a situation where some people won’t run because they can’t or won’t get involved in a process where they have to raise that much money,” Redfield said.
Canary said the amount of negative campaign advertising might play a large part in the final tallies.
“There’s a lot of money and when there’s a lot of money, there’s more money to spend on negative advertising,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the amount of money but how it’s spent. It’s really kind of getting out of control.”
She also said campaign spending has hit a high point, but perhaps not the highest.
“This is a real watershed kind of election,” she said. “We spent double of that in the past. It’s catapulting us into a league I’m not sure we want to be in. It raises the floor but certainly doesn’t put a ceiling on it.”
Reporter Arin Thompson can be reached at [email protected]