A Whole New World? What’s Changed (and hasn’t) in the Post-Madigan Money Race

With Mike Madigan gone from the Speaker’s seat for almost a year, recent fundraising reports give us some hints about what’s changed and what’s stayed the same in a post-Madigan era. 

What’s the same. Legislative leaders are still abusing the “self-funding loophole” to get around contribution limits and rake in megadonations. Small donors continue to have a virtually nonexistent role in funding state political leaders. And Democratic leaders continue to overwhelm their Republican counterparts in the money race. 

What (may be) different. New leadership of the Democratic Party of Illinois invites questions about the organization’s role as it emerges from Madigan’s shadow, while it’s too soon to tell if new IL House Speaker Chris Welch will use his growing reserves to control his caucus to the same extent as his predecessor.

Here are RFI’s observations about 2021’s third quarter state and local fundraising reports. 

Blowing caps to make way for big money. Of the three legislative leaders, only IL House Minority Leader Jim Durkin has yet to loan himself $100,001 to trigger the self-funding or “money bomb” loophole that enables candidates to take in contributions above the normal state limits. House Speaker Chris Welch has already benefited handsomely from the loophole, bringing in almost $600K from the Engineers Political Education Committee and $100K+ donations each from the Illinois Laborers’ Legislative Committee and the Healthcare Council of Illinois PAC in just the last few weeks. 

Read RFI’s research on how legislative leaders have exploited the “self-funding” loophole, which was meant to level the playing field between candidates but often has the opposite effect, and our proposals to fix it. 

As always, a tiny role for small donors in funding state leaders. Across parties, across legislative leaders, one thing is the same: big donors crowd out the voices of everyday Illinoisans. Not one legislative leader took in even half a percent of their funds from non-itemized donations, those contributions that are $150 or less. Speaker Welch had the lowest percentage at .08%, a number that may shrink even more now that caps are off. Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie had the highest percentage, at .43%.

Read RFI’s research on the tiny role of small donors in Chicago’s last mayoral race.  

Welch builds his war chest. Mike Madigan may be gone, but the Speaker’s office remains a money magnet. Speaker Welch raised almost $2.8 million between his candidate committee and his Democrats for the Illinois House committee, which replaced Madigan’s Democratic Majority caucus committee. Given that Welch has been in the Speaker’s seat for less than a year, he’s doing a very respectable job of following in his predecessor’s fundraising footsteps. He controls about $6 million across his two committees, far from the $23 million or so that Madigan controlled when he left. But he’s just getting started, and reliable Democratic donors like big labor are showing up for him. One notable contribution: $20,000 from Citizens for Lou Lang, the campaign committee of the former House Deputy Majority leader under Madigan.    

Welch has raised almost a million dollars just in the few weeks since the end of the quarter on September 30. Now that he’s eliminated his contribution caps, we can expect his bank account to grow by orders of magnitude. 

Harmon’s machine is purring. Senate President Don Harmon has turned out to be quite the fundraising force himself. He, too, has broken his contribution caps (which his predecessor, John Cullerton, never did), and he has been raking it in, amassing more than $2 million this quarter and now controlling almost $9.2 million over his five local and state committees. Harmon’s biggest donors this quarter were from the nursing home industry and personal injury law firms

Read RFI’s past research on Harmon’s impressive fundraising abilities. 

The jury is still out on the new Democratic Party of Illinois (DPI), but it’s making progress. After decades of Mike Madigan’s control, the Democratic Party of Illinois is making its way in a new world with a new leader and new fundraising and operational models. Congresswoman Robin Kelly has taken the reins, but with legal limitations on her fundraising ability because of her federal position, the main responsibility for raising money falls on a new committee within the DPI. The DPI only raised $65K in cash last quarter, but the new committee only began working in mid-August, so it’s far too soon to tell how this is all going to work. Big donors may be in a bit of a wait and see mode, trying to figure out the best places to put their money in a post-Madigan system. Still, the committee raised another $49,500 in the three weeks since September 30, suggesting it may be revving up already.

Congresswoman Kelly says she will depart from her predecessor, whose primary focus was on statehouse races, by devoting more resources to local and federal races.  

Democrats continue to eclipse Republicans in the money race. While the Illinois Republican Party boasted about raising $10K more than its Democratic counterpart this quarter, Democratic leaders continue to enjoy a lopsided financial lead over their Republican counterparts. Democratic legislative leaders control $15 million to the Republicans’ $2.5 million, a 6:1 advantage. That doesn’t include the $2.4 million (in non-federal funds) the state Democratic party has on hand, versus the GOP’s $238K. 

That advantage could wither if a Republican megadonor like Ken Griffin refocuses his attention on state races. Griffin flooded GOP coffers in the 2014 to 2018 cycles, contributing $11 million to House Minority Leader Durkin alone. The billionaire hedge fund manager donated to state races with relative restraint in 2020, aiming his dollars at the Chicago mayoral race and the fights against the progressive tax amendment and the retention of IL Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride. Whether Griffin will rekindle his interest in the statehouse remains to be seen, but we might know soon: his biggest legislative donations have historically come in October.

While House Minority Leader Jim Durkin has not blown his caps as of this writing, his senate counterpart, Dan McConchie, has, suggesting he’s expecting to solicit some big donations soon. McConchie enters the last week of October with about $1.7 million on hand, while Durkin has about $840K.   

Pritzker dominates, but Sullivan makes a dramatic entrance. Governor JB Pritzker spent over $8.2 million this quarter, ending with nearly $25 million on hand. But Republican candidate and venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, who entered the race in September, already has about $10 million in the bank. Nearly all of that is from four donors, all of whom are California residents with ties to tech or the finance industry. None of Pritzker’s remaining Republican opponents even come close to closing the money gap: Darren Bailey has about $1M, Gary Rabine has $416K, and Paul Schimpf has $73K. Gary Rabine’s self-funding eliminated all caps for the race in April.

Giannoulias continues to outraise his opponents. In the Secretary of State’s race, former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias brought in $610K last quarter, bringing his bank account to almost $3.5 million. Chicago Alderman Pat Dowell raised $152K and now has $461K, while Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia raised $203K for a total of $708K. Bringing up the rear is Chicago Alderman David Moore. He raised $13K, $12k of it from a single donor, bringing his total after expenditures to just $13k.

Don’t forget about Madigan! His committee still has over $10.5 million in the bank, funds that could get distributed to favored candidates or used for his mounting legal fees

We’re here to keep you updated on money in Illinois politics, but if you want to investigate for yourself, you can do so using Reform for Illinois’ Sunshine Database. Tell us what you find!


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