"That's All Lovely," Major Donor/Spender Gov. Rauner Says Of Campaign Finance Transparency

Mar 30, 2016

Gov. Bruce Rauner talked about Chicago Public Schools and the state budget impasse during an IT unveiling, but wouldn't answer a question about campaign finance regulations.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

Some of the primary races in early March were the most expensive in state history, but it will remain a mystery where all of the money to fund them came from. That does not appear to concern Gov.Bruce Rauner.

All told, $10 million was spent on just two races for the legislature.

Gov. Rauner himself -- or his campaign fund anyway -- shoveled much of the money into those record-spending primaries (both of the candidates Rauner spent most heavily on -- Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, and state tropper Bryce Benton, who challenged Republican Senator Sam McCann -- ended up losing). It's hard to tell just how much. Contributions to certain groups, which are organized as non-profits, don't have to be disclosed.

That's led to calls for more transparency.

Rauner won't say if that's something he supports.

When asked about it during a press availability following an event centered on how Illinois government is updating its information technology, Rauner responded:  "Today I'm not going to talk about political process. Today we're focusing on government. Protecting taxpayers. That's going to be the focus. I'm sure a lot of people have different ideas about campaign finance and campaign finance reform. That's all lovely. That's not something I'm going to talk about today."

Sarah Brune is director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, one of the groups that's calling for changes. She says it's important for voters to know who's bankrolling Illinois politicians.

"Well it's definitely frustrating if anyone doesn't take this issue seriously," she said. "One thing that we say in the primary elections: some of these $5 and $6 million state house and senate races, they were vying for less than 25,000 votes. I mean, it's really a small local area. And what happens is the voices of local donors really get drowned out when there's millions and millions of dollars spent trying to persuade them. They aren't involved in their own election. And think that's really the tragedy here."

Brune says ICPR plans to focus this summer on what can be done about the "dark money" groups that don't have to disclose their funders.

She also says the primary cycle made apparent "there needs to be more disclosure on what campaigns are spending during the election."

Many of the political ads you probably saw ahead primary earlier this month were paid for by Super-PACS  -- political action committees that can't coordinate with a campaign. You can learn who paid for the commercials, and how much was spent. Brune says that's thanks to a law passed last year that requires reporting of these independent expenditures.

But Brune says there needs to be quicker, closer to real-time disclosure of what the candidates' own campaigns are spending during the election.

"If you check out the spending for this election for the primaries, you can see that what campaigns spend on their own candidate doesn't have to be reported until their quarterly reports. Those don't come out until April 15," she said. "I think that's a huge issue because if a committee is buying ads on behalf of its own candidate, you're not going to know how much they spent until months later.

There's a similar delay for the general election. That's in early November. Candidates' reporting won't be due until months afterward, in January.