(Chicago, IL) – October 20, 2010. All 118 Illinois House seats are up for grabs for the general election on Nov. 2.
While the vast majority of those House races aren’t competitive, there are a few downstate races where the candidates have dug in their heels and contributors have poured in upwards of $1 million in cash and donated services since July.
Political science professor Chris Mooney with the University of Illinois at Springfield said he would not be surprised if this was the most expensive election period for General Assembly races in the state’s history.
“You’re not usually getting this many House races that are $1 million. It used to be you get one or two Senate races that would be $1 million or $2 million. But now, this is just almost unheard of,” he said.
This week, candidates were required to submit “pre-election” reports documenting the contributions received between July 1 and Oct. 3 to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Candidates are also required to submit timely reports to the state agency on any donations of $500 or more they receive up to a month before the election.
Central Illinois is host to at least three Illinois House races that have already surpassed the $1 million mark, according to records posted by the Illinois State Board of Elections.
One of the state’s most expensive races as of Tuesday is the fight for the 98th House District in central Illinois, according to submitted records.
Democrat Charles Landers and Republican Wayne Rosenthal are vying for the seat that formerly belonged to, Gary Hannig, who now serves as secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Landers has received more than $1.45 million in cash contributions and donated services, such as mailing, polling and advertising, between July and October. In that same period, Rosenthal has received more than $550,000.
Landers has been the beneficiary of several contributions from the Democratic Party of Illinois, ranging from $70,890 to $84,930 over the past month.
House GOP Leader Tom Cross‘ campaign fund has fueled Rosenthal’s bid with donations between $20,000 and $65,000 going back to September.
Mooney said Republicans are targeting the seat because of the area’s small-town demographics.
“That’s the heartland for Republicans. There are Democrats around, but it seems like there are fewer and fewer of them and they’re having a harder and harder time making districts that are safe for Democats,” he said.
A similar analysis by ISN earlier this week indicated that the battle over the state’s 49th Senate District, between Democrat incumbent Deanna Demuzio and GOP challenger Sean McCann, was among the most expensive state senate races. The 49th Senate District includes the 98th House District.
In the Peoria area, State Rep. Mike Smith (D-Canton) is locked in an electoral battle with Republican East Peoria City Councilman Mike Unes to keep his seat.
Contributors have invested more than $670,000 in Smith’s campaign and $490,000 in Unes’ bid between July and September.
Another incumbent, State Rep. Bob Flider (D-Decatur) also faces a well-backed challenge from Republicand Decatur City Councilman Adam Brown.
Flider has been given $503,000 in cash and donated services since July, while Brown has raised $513,000 over that same time period.
David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said downstate campaigns can be expensive because candidates are buying broadcast time in a large district.
“It’s very expensive to buy (media) time in Chicago, but you only have to buy time on a handful of stations and you’ll cover the whole district. If you’re especially from one of those downstate districts, you have to buy broadcast time in three or four different media markets. Each ad will cost you less, but to get the same saturation across the district, it’ll cost you just as much,” he said.
One constant throughout these expensive races is the consistent flow of money from both political parties.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the chair of the Democratic Party in Illinois and head of the House Democratic Caucus, has received more than $1.59 million in cash and services since July.
Contributors have been nearly as generous with Madigan’s counterpart across the aisle, Cross (R-Oswego), donating more than $1.45 million in that same time period.
Neither Madigan or Cross are involved in a competitive election race, which means the leaders are using their money to help fund other lawmakers’ races, according to Morrison.
“They raise a lot of money and they hand it out. Donors give to leaders because leaders are going to win, they are going to be in office, they are probably going to be head of the caucus next time. They are people who are in a position to do favors,” he said.
By Kevin Lee, Illinois Statehouse News