Money in Politics

Illinois State Capitol 7167050199

Looking Beyond Madigan: Senate President Don Harmon Has Been Quietly Building His Fundraising Machine

Senator Don Harmon assumed the office of President of the Illinois Senate in January of 2020 following Senator John Cullerton’s resignation. He is now a key player not only in passing legislation but also in raising and distributing funds for members of the Democratic Party, especially those running for Senate seats. 

The Senate passed term limits for leadership posts in 2017, meaning Senator Harmon’s time in the top job will be limited to ten years. (At least in theory—because the leadership term limits are a rule change and not a statutory change or constitutional amendment, they can be undone by a vote in the Senate.) That means that he likely won’t have time to accumulate the same level of power as Speaker Madigan, the longest-serving Speaker of the House in any state in U.S. history. 

But Senator Harmon is less than one year into his tenure as one of the state’s top Democrats and has already taken steps to make himself a key money mover in Illinois politics. 

Harmon is taking in massive donations

In December 2019,  before he assumed the office of Senate President, Senator Harmon took advantage of the self-funding provision in Illinois’ election code by loaning his campaign committee $100,001 to allow it to take in unlimited contributions from donors. 

Republican leaders have been using the self-funding loophole since 2016, and Speaker Madigan began using it in 2018 to great effect. Former Senate President Cullerton, however, never opted to use it. 

Since joining the fundraising fray in December, Senator Harmon has taken in $2.4 million from donors who gave more than they would have been allowed to if contribution limits were in place. That’s more than half his total fundraising since December.

Highest Aggregate Donations in Excess of Contribution Limits to Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate from 12/4/2019 through 9/30/2020


Aggregate Contribution

LIUNA Chicago Laborers’ District Council PAC


Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor Management PAC


Illinois Pipe Trades PAC Account


IBEW Illinois PAC


Illinois Laborers’ Legislative Committee


Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters PAC


DRIVE Committee


Teamsters Local Union 731


Chicago Journeymen Plumbers’ Union #130


Stephen and Mary Jo Schuler



Harmon chairs five fundraising committees  

Like Speaker Madigan, Senator Harmon controls several committees. His personal campaign committee, Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate, has raised the most money, in part due to his use of the self-funding rule. He also recently set up ISDF, the Democratic Senate caucus committee that contributes to Senate races, mainly through in-kind donations such as paying for staff or mailings. 

On the local level, he chairs the Democratic Party of Oak Park and runs two more committees to support his candidacy for Democratic leadership posts. Don Harmon for Township Committeeman supports his campaign as Oak Park’s representative in the Cook County Democratic Party, a position he has held since 2000. His fifth committee is Don Harmon for State Central Committeeman, which he maintains despite the fact that he has never actually been on the ballot for the Democratic State Central Committee. In November 2017, Senator Harmon filed to run for 7th District State Central Committeeman but withdrew on January 11, 2018. Curiously, he did not create the fundraising committee to support his election until January 16, 2018—five days after he had already withdrawn from the race.   

Cash on Hand for Harmon-Chaired Committees (as of 9/30/2020)


Cash on Hand

Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate




Democratic Party of Oak Park


Don Harmon for Township Committeeman


Don Harmon for State Central Committeeman


It’s not entirely clear why Senator Harmon created and maintains his State Central Committeeman campaign fund, but having more committees can make it easier to collect more money. 

In 2016, before using the self-funding loophole, Speaker Madigan collected maximum contributions from a single donor in each of the four committees he controls, effectively allowing him to quadruple contribution limits. 

SEIU HealthCare IL IN PAC gave a maximum $57,800 donation to four of Harmon’s committees between September 11 and September 18, 2020. Similarly, between March 2 and March 4, the IUOE Local 399 Political Education Fund gave maxed-out donations to four of Harmon’s committees, missing only his State Central Committeeman campaign fund. 

Top Donors Making Contributions to Multiple Harmon-Chaired Committees Since the 2018 Election


Cumulative Donation

Number of Committees Receiving Donations

LIUNA Chicago Laborers’ District Council PAC



IBEW Illinois PAC



IUOE Local 399 Political Education Fund






Associated Fire Fighters of IL PAC Fund



Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters PAC






Finishing Trades of Chicago PAC



Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE



Simmons Hanly Conroy



Controlling multiple committees creates a second method (in addition to the self-funding loophole) to subvert contribution limits because the five committees can make liberal transfers to each other. Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate is currently the largest contributor to the ISDF, having contributed more than $1 million of the $1.76 million the caucus committee has raised since its creation. Much of that money has gone towards paying for advertising and campaign staff for Democratic Senate candidates.

President Harmon also maintains a close connection to the Illinois Democratic Heartland Committee, a PAC that focuses on supporting down-state Senate Democrats and shares a treasurer with ISDF. Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate recently infused it with a $250,000 transfer, bringing its total fundraising for this quarter to nearly half a million dollars. 

How do the legislative leaders stack up?


It’s no surprise that Speaker Madigan dwarfs all other non-billionaire candidates when it comes to fundraising. However, Senator Harmon’s success is noteworthy as well. In his first term as Senate President, he has raised more than twice the total collected by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and his Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Bill Brady. 

Of course, the 2020 election cycle is not over. All four legislative leaders have used the self-funding loophole to remove contribution limits to their personal campaign committees, meaning that contributions from just a handful of megadonors could significantly alter the fundraising picture. 

Harmon’s star is rising

Speaker Madigan has been the lightning rod at the center of Illinois politics for decades, and for good reason. But he is not the only power player in Illinois Democratic politics.  While Senator Harmon’s fundraising prowess is not yet on par with Madigan’s, he is on the rise, just one year into a possible decade as Senate President. It’s well worth the effort of starting to pay attention to where he is getting his funding and what he is doing with it.


Prepared by RFI Policy Analyst Isaac Wink 


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