Republican Bruce Rauner and Democrat Pat Quinn are on pace to spend more than $100 million on the Illinois governor's race, doubling the state's previous record in a closely watched contest featuring heavy investment by business and labor.
As of Wednesday evening, Rauner had collected $63.75 million and Quinn had raised $29.3 million — the balance tilted to the Republican side largely because the Winnetka equity investor has dipped into his own fortune for $26.1 million.
The breakneck campaign fundraising has fueled a seemingly endless loop of attack ads on TV, radio and websites and illustrated the high stakes not only in Illinois but also nationally as Democrats try to protect Barack Obama's home state from a Republican incursion that would create embarrassment for the White House and a further eroding of the president's lame-duck political status.
For Rauner, the spending is simple. Making his first run for public office, he had to introduce himself to Republican voters during the primary campaign with a healthy dose of TV ads. Rauner has applied the same technique for the general election campaign, first to try to show he was not as hard line as portrayed in the primary, then unleashing a string of negative ads attempting to cast Quinn as ineffective and lacking integrity.
Though Quinn is no darling of organized labor, the union money kept his candidacy viable. Absent a spring primary challenge, Quinn was able to store money for the fall campaign, allowing him to have virtually the same cash for TV ads as Rauner. Rather than tell voters what he would do if they give him a second term, Quinn mostly has sought to portray Rauner as wealthy and uncaring.
It also was incumbent upon Rauner to spend more to overcome the hurdle of running in a Democrat-leaning state. He was forced to build a Republican organization because the party has been out of power in the governor's office since Illinois voters picked Democrat Rod Blagojevich in 2002.
Still, the campaign fundraising totals are staggering. Four years ago, Quinn and two challengers set an Illinois record for an Illinois governor's race by spending $50.5 million. With a few days to go until Tuesday's election, Rauner and Quinn have reported raising a combined $93 million since the Republican candidate got into the race in March 2013.
Kent Redfield, political science professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield and a longtime campaign finance researcher, attributed the escalation in fundraising to a combination of the U.S. Supreme Court-ordered easing up on donation limits and a newfound devotion among wealthy individuals to put their money into their political beliefs.
"One of the things that this reflects is there's a lot more with huge concentrations of wealth at the top, more people getting engaged in politics," Redfield said. "There's no question that there's going to be a lot more big money in politics."
Campaign disclosure reports show Rauner has raised his money from more than 8,500 separate donations. But 23 individuals or groups account for donations of $100,000 or more, generating more than $47 million of the $63 million he's raised. Rauner sits atop the list with his own $26.1 million — nearly as much as Quinn has raised overall.
Rauner's top six donors, excluding himself, account for $15.2 million: the Republican Governors Association with $8.6 million; Chicago hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin with $4.6 million; longtime conservative donor Richard Uihlein and his Uline Corp. with $640,000; the Illinois Manufacturers' Association with $565,000; and Rauner former equity firm business partner Edgar Jannotta Jr. and Elizabeth Christie, another donor to GOP causes, with $405,300 each.
"These individual large funders in Illinois are just at the breaking point as far as the direction of this state," said Gregory Baise, president and CEO of the manufacturers association.
"It's a sign of frustration for wounded business types that they are playing in these large numbers," Baise said. "The frustration of my members is the need to get things under control, controlling spending and changing the tax structure. And with the big (underfunded public employee) pension, they think that a day of reckoning is coming."
In contrast, Quinn has raised nearly $16.8 million from 67 separate donations of $100,000 or more, with the money coming from 22 groups or individuals. Of that total, more than $11.8 million came from five sources: the Democratic Governors Association at $4.7 million, various entities of the Service Employees International Union at $3.4 million, various affiliates of the Laborers International Union at $1.8 million, longtime Democratic donor Fred Eychaner at $1 million and groups associated with the Engineers union at $925,000.
Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the union donations represent an effort to provide a collective voice for working people against Rauner's wealthy individual donors.
"I'm not surprised (Rauner) raised the money, that's his background. He's a private equity guy, and I would say it seems to me in the campaign that's how he thinks you get elected — through private equity rather than a compelling public argument," said Montgomery, whose IFT affiliates and parent American Federation of Teachers have given Quinn more than $740,000.
"We pool money, but in the end, we're speaking for a half a million people in Illinois in labor and their families," Montgomery said.
Public employee unions tried to upend Rauner in the Republican primary over his criticism of "government union bosses" controlling a "corrupt" system with lawmakers and came close in a late push backing then-state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale.
But Rauner also has alienated nongovernment unions over proposals such as the creation of "right-to-work" zones that would eliminate union protections in an effort to jump-start business and job growth.
Quinn's campaign also has been assisted by a union and Democratic-affiliated political action committee, the Illinois Freedom PAC. The group spent more than $3.5 million in the primary in an effort to defeat Rauner, and it has nearly $4.8 million available for spending in the general election.
In addition, several other political action committees are spending more than $4.4 million they raised on several advisory-only ballot proposals aimed at driving Democratic turnout, including a proposal asking voters if they support an increase in the minimum wage.
Another independent expenditure political action committee focused on gun control and funded in part by Democratic state lawmakers announced Wednesday it is spending $110,000 for TV commercials attacking Rauner's support of gun-owner rights.
All of this spending comes after lawmakers imposed campaign donation limits on public officials to curb the Blagojevich-era fundraising abuses.
Those limits largely have gone out the window in major races. If a candidate puts more than $250,000 of his or her own money into a statewide race or $100,000 into legislative or local races, all donation limits go off. The same holds true if an independent PAC raises those amounts trying to sway the outcome of an election.
Rauner effectively lifted the donation limits last November during the Republican primary contest with a $500,000 donation on top of the $249,000 he had previously given to his campaign.
But Redfield said lawmakers kept the self-funding or independent expenditure PAC limit artificially low to allow incumbents to take on well-heeled challengers or to try to rebuff criticism from a well-financed group trying to take them out.
"There was never any possibility we were going to run a governor's race under contribution limits, and they are pretty irrelevant to statewide office or larger offices," Redfield said.
The fundraising totals show that with $29.3 million, Quinn has raised more this time out than four years ago, when he collected nearly $23.3 million.
But Rauner has nearly tripled the nearly $21 million that the 2010 Republican nominee, state Sen. Bill Brady, spent to win the nomination and fall less than 32,000 votes short of Quinn in the general election.
On Wednesday, Quinn continued his multiday tour touting good economic news, visiting Tuscola in central Illinois to announce that Cronus Fertilizers would build a $1.4 billion plant the administration says would create 2,000 construction jobs and 175 full-time jobs.
Rauner accused Quinn of timing this week's announcements to give his campaign a last-minute boost ahead of Tuesday's election. Earlier this week, the governor highlighted 500 new jobs at a Logan Square logistics company and another 1,000 promised in the next three years by online retailer Amazon.
"He's trying to scramble to come up with a few little pieces of good news," Rauner told reporters after meeting with workers at a chemical plant in Wheeling. "Good news is always a welcome thing, but Pat Quinn has been such a failure and our economic growth has come so (slow)."
Quinn repeatedly has brushed aside questions from reporters about whether the string of jobs announcements are timed to help him politically, saying many of the deals have been in the works for months. Cronus will get more than $52 million in various tax, road construction and job training incentives to come to Illinois.
"There are going to be so many people who have a job, and the best social program ever devised is a job," Quinn said.
Meanwhile, Quinn's campaign released a new TV ad in which the governor delivers his closing pitch to voters. Looking directly at the camera, Quinn says, "You know me, I've fought for everyday people all my life." He mentions his push to raise the minimum wage before closing with a direct appeal "asking for your vote."
Rauner is running an ad featuring the candidate sitting on a couch next to wife Diana, who decries "false attacks" and declares her husband "isn't a typical politician."
Tribune reporters Michelle Manchir and Monique Garcia contributed.