Not so long ago, just at the end of 2005, political observers and journalists were all atwitter about this then government. Rod Blagojevich had amassed a campaign war chest of $15 million. It was a year before the election, and no one had seen this kind of money in Illinois politics before.
Of course, there were plenty of suspicions that Blagojevich was a walking criminal indictment, but we wouldn’t know the full extent of that until late 2008, two years after she sank Judy Baar Topinka under a sea of ads. negative.
But even though reliance on expensive TV ads and direct mail has increased the costs of statewide campaigns, $15 million seems so quaint now that billionaires or near-billionaires have taken control of the Illinois politics. Not quite a billionaire Bruce Rauner poured in $40 million of his own money to get elected governor in 2014. Governor JB Pritzker, a billionaire, spent $170 million of his own money to get elected governor in 2018 Now Illinois’ richest man, hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, has put $20 million behind his favorite Republican gubernatorial candidate, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin. That $20 million would be a down payment on Irvin’s candidacy. Meanwhile, Pritzker continues to fill its own campaign coffers, injecting $90 million all at once earlier this year.
This column is not about how the rich spend money. In fact, as someone who grew up in an underprivileged rural area, it’s easy to respect people like Griffin and Pritzker who built their business. Although some would say Pritzker had a head start in his career.
I will never blame anyone for making money. If it’s legal and ethical, go buy five super yachts and a spare Gulfstream for your lakeside home in the Italian Alps. I do not care.
But the dependence on money has negatively impacted state policy in several ways. First, from Blair Hull to Andy McKenna to Jim Oberweis and Bruce Rauner, we’ve seen that the wealthy aren’t necessarily the best candidates. As Rauner has shown (and many would say Pritzker shows), they are often not sufficiently prepared for the demands of governance.
Running a state government is not like running a business. I know this is an easy talking point for a lot of Republicans, and I’ve probably written it for them over the years, but government is a massive, complicated organization. And while the goal of business is to maximize profits, sometimes by taking shortcuts or prioritizing, many state government expenditures are based on constitutional requirements, federal matching funds, and a moral safety net on which Republicans and Democrats agree.
While CBS and Disney will be happy for the billionaires to fund a nice dividend for their shareholders from the hundreds of millions that will be spent on TV ads this year, it makes the candidates less accessible to the public.
Since Irvin entered the race last month, he has held no public events, done a few tightly controlled interviews and only campaigned at GOP events that the media has not been told about. . He can hide behind his TV ads without having to answer many tough questions from constituents, reporters, or people like me who write columns in your newspaper.
I therefore encourage you to get involved in the political process. I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat or somewhere in between. Try to meet these candidates. Talk to them when they storm the barn and pull their fancy bus to the restaurant in your town. Ask them what is important to you. Be respectful and fair. Record it with your cell phone. You have the power to hold candidates accountable for what they say and believe. Our cell phones and our voices are the best tool to fight against billionaires who make do with a system that belongs to us.
• Patrick Pfingsten is an award-winning former journalist and longtime Republican strategist who writes the Illinoize State Political Bulletin. You can learn more about www.theillinoize.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.