News Local/State

Politics Aside, Rauner’s Money Could Change Illinois Political Landscape

Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner greet before a debate in Chicago Tuesday.

Illinois gubernatorial candidates Republican Bruce Rauner, left, and Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn greet before a debate at the DuSable Museum of African American History, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In Illinois' race for governor, one thing both sides can agree on is this: Republican Bruce Rauner has a lot of money.

Rauner has pointed to his wealth as a evidence he's living the American Dream. 

"America is about working hard and doing good, and I'm proud of my success," Rauner told reporters on Republican Day at the State Fair in August.

That money also became campaign fodder for Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, like in this web ad for a fictional game called "Rauneropoly."

"Welcome to Rauneropoly, the game that billionaire Bruce Rauner is playing to become governor," exclaims a man made up to look like the "Rich Uncle Pennybags" character from Monopoly.

Though the money has been flowing through the race at the top of the ticket, it's races down the ballot that stand to gain from the governor's battle.  

And the effect of that money in this campaign might be felt in Illinois politics for a very long time.

Politics aside, the fact remains Bruce Rauner has raised a lot of money. The governor's race has broken all kinds of fundraising records in Illinois.  

Rauner put $26 million dollars of his own money into his campaign — enough to break through the fundraising limits and allow both candidates to raise unlimited cash.

Rauner's campaign also collected $37 million from donors. But not all of that money was used by Rauner himself.

Rauner knew that to win in deep blue Illinois, he'd have to help out candidates from the bottom up, and help prop up local Republican organizations that do so much of the footwork in campaigns.

Where did Rauner and Quinn spend their money? Click on the map to explore.

So Bruce Rauner donated millions to Republican candidates and causes from Chicago to Cairo, a move former Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady says has provided a much-needed jolt to the party, in order to match the fundraising prowess of House Speaker Michael Madigan (who also serves as chair of the state's Democratic Party.)

"Republicans have always been at a disadvantage because we don't raise money like Speaker Madigan does," Brady said. "To his credit, they are outstanding fundraisers. Now this year, it appears we have parity, not only because Bruce Rauner's put in his own money but he's raised a lot of money. And the business community's dying for a change."

Local county and township organizations — like the 75 or so Rauner has strategically donated money to — can provide enthusiastic "boots on the ground" for local voter outreach efforts. But it's the state party, which Rauner gave over $8 million dollars to, that can then distribute funds to vulnerable candidates, or candidates they think have a chance of ousting a Democrat.

It's in these races where Rauner's money could make all the difference, according to Kent Redfield, political scientist at the University of Illinois - Springfield. Redfield says Republicans are at a structural disadvantage when compared with Democrats who have been in control of the legislature and governor’s mansion for years. 

"They've got huge majorities and everybody knows they're going to be in charge so it's really easy for them to raise money and it's hard for the two Republican leaders, Durkin and Radogno to raise money, then again, he's filling a need," Redfield said. 

Rauner and his money are certainly filling a need. Those two Republican leaders, Senate minority leader Christine Radogno and House minority leader Jim Durkin, face not just Democratic majorities in the legislature, but supermajorities. Which means even if Bruce Rauner were to take the governor's mansion, his veto power could be overruled if Democrats voted in unison.

But, if Republicans could win back just one seat in the House, the Democrats' so-called "veto-proof majority" would vanish. 

So the Republican party has focused major fundraising efforts on a handful of races they believe they can win.

Former Governor Jim Edgar says he sees voters tired of one-party rule in Illinois. He says though Republican enthusiasm in the the governor's race has been most visible, he can see the beginnings of a wider Republican wave in Illinois.

"I think Republicans are more energized on the whole than Democrats are," he said. "I think people's frustration, particularly Republicans and being out of power so long has grown so I think there's more enthusiasm among Republicans."

That enthusiasm was on high display in August on Republican Day at the State Fair. Rauner was greeted with dozens of screaming fans as he rode in on his Harley.

It was a clear 180 from recent Republican Days at the fair, when there wasn't a candidate like Rauner — or his money — to rally around.

Now it's up to voters to see if their enthusiasm for a Republican comeback matches that of Bruce Rauner's.