Legislative Leaders and Parties Pay for 63% of Spending in Hot Races

Candidates depend on caucus leadership to pay for their campaigns.

In a new analysis released today, money provided by legislative leader PACs and political parties accounted for 63 percent of the spending in the big dollar campaigns for 19 legislative seats in 2010.

Spending by the legislative leaders and parties totaled $15.4 million, the bulk of the total of nearly $24.4 million spent by the 38 candidates vying for 12 House seats and seven Senate seats, according to an analysis of records examined by the Sunshine Project and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).

The $15.4 million included more than $4.8 million to Senate Democratic candidates; nearly $4.4 million to House Democratic candidates; more than $3.6 million to House Republican candidates; and more than $2.5 million to Senate Republican candidates. The study examined spending in races where each candidate received a total of at least $100,000 from legislative leaders and parties.

“Legislators living in fear of a tight election contest have come to depend on legislative leaders to prop up their campaigns,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). “That dependence can become a real addiction, and the side effects warp representative government.”

“Several legislators are in Springfield today only because legislative leaders and parties came up with a third or more of the money they needed to wage winning campaigns against well-funded rivals,” said Kent Redfield, Director of the Sunshine Project and a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “Several of them allowed their legislative leaders and parties to provide an astounding 70 to 80 percent of their total spending. That high degree of dependence on a single donor can make constituents question whether their representatives are responsive to their interests.”

The highest total spending contest in the 2010 general election was the more than $2 million spent by the two candidates running for the 49th Senate District, just south of Springfield. Deanna Demuzio, the incumbent Democrat, spent $1.8 million, including $1.2 million in leader/party money (66 percent), but she lost to Republican Sam McCann, who spent nearly $900,000, including $634,000 in leader/party money (71 percent of his spending).

“Suburban and Downstate legislative districts often feature vigorous campaigning by candidates from both parties,” Redfield said. “In 2010, more of those candidates turned to legislative leaders who spit out cash like an ATM machine on the fritz.”

The 2010 election was the last Illinois election waged under a campaign finance system that allows unlimited contributions from all sources. Beginning in 2011, contributions more all sources, including legislative leaders and political parties, are limited in primary elections. The new law applies limits to all funding sources except legislative leaders and parties in the general election.

“Before the 2012 election season begins, Illinois should close that loophole that would permit a continuation of unlimited giving by legislative leaders and parties,” Canary said. “Legislation pending in the General Assembly would close the loophole and provide for a comprehensive system of reforms. However, passage depends on the ability of rank-and-file legislators – including those who owe their election victories in large part to some enormous contributions from leaders – to convince leaders that the leaders be placed under limits like all other funders.

(Chart of contributions for Senate and House targeted races can be found on ICPR's website, at http://ilcampaign.org/targeted-legislative-races-2010.)