This isn't breaking news—it's been evident for years in Congress, where most seats are held by millionaires. Yet this year's primary races in Illinois confirm that money shapes elections at almost every level. Even candidates for local office are now drawn into financial arms races. Many say they're forced to dip into their own bank accounts for tens of thousands of dollars of reserves—an option that's certainly not available to everyone.
If you're following the money, the 2014 primaries look like this:
• In the last six months alone, candidates across Illinois received a total of 119 separate contributions of $25,000 or more from individuals, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Nearly a third—37, to be precise—were donations or loans from candidates to their own political funds.
• Another 210 contributions of $25,000 or more came from unions, PACs, and businesses.
• The most prolific self-funder was multimillionaire Bruce Rauner. According to polls, he's leading the Republican field for governor after saturating the airwaves with commercials portraying himself as a regular guy. Seven of the top 13 individual donations of the period were from Rauner to Rauner, adding up to more than $5 million.
• Rauner wasn’t the only gubernatorial hopeful to be good to himself. Republican Kirk Dillard, who's second in the latest poll, loaned himself $25,000. In addition, his running mate, Jil Tracy, gave her campaign for lieutenant governor $65,000 and then moved most of it into Dillard's coffers.
• Democrat William Daley played an expensive game of he loves himself/he loves himself not. Daley contributed $146,000 to his campaign, then abruptly dropped out of the race.
• While it's nice to be comfortable, it also helps to have prosperous friends. Altogether, Rauner received 57 donations of $25,000 or more. Ken Griffin, a hedge-fund operator who's also a generous supporter of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's, gave Rauner $650,000.
Edgar Jannotta, chairman of Edgar Jannotta Jr., who formerly worked at Rauner's equity firm GTCR, identifies himself as an executive at William Blairpitched in $250,000. (Jannotta Jr. also formerly worked as a managing director at William Blair, the company that later helped the city sell off the parking meter system. State campaign records initially identified William Blair as his employer. But a spokesman for the company says Jannotta Jr. no longer works at the firm, and state records have been updated to list him as "self employed.") Another $100,000 came compliments of Joe Mansueto, the CEO of Morningstar and an investor in Wrapports, owner of the Reader and the Sun-Times.
• Rauner's rivals didn't fare nearly as well among big donors. Dillard has received eight contributions of at least $25,000. State treasurer Dan Rutherford received one, and Senator Bill Brady didn't get any.
• It does pay to be the incumbent. Democrat Pat Quinn, facing only a nominal challenge from activist Tio Hardiman, received 25 contributions of at least $25,000, almost all of them from unions. His largest donation from an individual was a check from William Brandt, CEO of the consulting firm Development Specialists.
• The self-funding trend is hardly limited to gubernatorial campaigns. Candidates for offices ranging from state judicial seats down to low-profile county posts also contributed sizable sums to their election coffers.
• For instance, Illinois Appellate Court Justice Shelly Harris loaned his campaign $450,000. His wife, Jane, loaned the fund another $400,000. The loans accounted for all but $13,000 of the money Harris collected.
Harris says he had few other options. He notes that ethics rules bar judicial candidates from directly soliciting funds and most voters are uneducated on judicial races. Plus, the Cook County Democratic Party is backing a challenger, circuit court judge and former alderman Freddrenna Lyle.
"So many individuals who are qualified cannot compete because we rely so heavily on an organization like the Cook County Democratic Party to carry you through the election," Harris wrote in an e-mail. "I'm fortunate enough to have personal money that I can put into this race to educate voters so they know that I am in fact the most qualified candidate for this position."
• The board overseeing the DuPage County Forest Preserve is not exactly known as the seat of power in the western world, or even in the western suburbs. But commissioner Marsha Murphy loaned $75,000 to her reelection effort. Murphy's colleague Linda Painter topped that with a self-loan of $95,000, though Painter now says she doesn't need it. "I'm running unopposed," she explains.
• Lawyer Richard Boykin has loaned his campaign for the Cook County board more than $74,000—$50,000 of it after board president Toni Preckwinkle donated that much to one of his rivals, Blake Sercye, and said that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would do the same. Incidentally, Sercye also put more than $7,000 of his own money into his campaign.
"The machine decided they're going to give $100,000 to one of my opponents, and I'm not going to get outspent and outworked," Boykin says. "We're talking to thousands of voters and going door-to-door, but radio, mail, and communications with voters all cost money. I would to God that there would be public financing of campaigns."