Save for Rauner cash, House GOP campaign fundraising slows to a trickle
On the last weekend of August 1999, then-Illinois House Republican Leader Lee Daniels held a golf outing and fundraiser dinner at Medinah Country Club that attracted 1,200, raising $680,000 for his members’ campaigns – $1.01 million in 2017 dollars, inflation-adjusted.
Jim Durkin, the current House Republican Leader, spent the last weekend of August 2017 hosting a recycling event. That was weeks after holding an animal adoption fair and, before that, a “children’s safety expo.”
"The Traveling Reptile Show and the Touch-a-Truck exhibit are especially popular,” Durkin said in a press release.
Such is the “new normal” for Illinois’ Republican legislative leaders.
The summer before an election year was once filled with outings, rallies and donor meetings, as legislative leaders scrambled to friend-raise and fund-raise, amassing the millions of dollars required to compete for majorities, from thousands of Republican supporters.
House GOP Leader Durkin of Western Springs and Senate GOP Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington have relinquished the “rainmaker” role their predecessors once embraced. Instead, they are working a single contributor this year who, they hope, will cover it all: Gov. Bruce Rauner.
For his House Republican Organization (HRO), which is supposed to fund member campaigns next year, Durkin raised just $60,675 from 19 outside donors between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to his filing with the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE).
That included a single individual, non-corporate contributor – former Rauner aide turned lobbyist Aaron Winters of Chicago, who contributed $175 to HRO on July 11.
Winters is business partners with controversial super-lobbyist and Durkin ally Nancy Kimme.
Durkin and his members need supporter votes, but he isn't asking for their money. He's waiting for a check from Rauner, who spent $12 million on House legislative races in 2016, instead.
Excluding Rauner, HRO is on pace to register just 110 outside contributions this year – including corporations and individuals, but not contributions from candidate political action committees – for a grand total of $220,000.
In contrast, two decades ago in 1997, Daniels managed to raise seven times as much money from nine times as many contributors.
Daniels’ House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC) reported $979,314 raised from 1,019 contributors in 1997, the equivalent of $1.5 million today.
To be sure, since taking over as House GOP Leader in August 2013, Durkin has de-emphasized raising money as a priority.
One signal: his fundraising operation is led by consultant Julie Cole Chirico of Naperville, whose only previous political experience was working as an administrative assistant to Brady, escorting him on the campaign trail during his failed 2010 gubernatorial run.
“Julie’s more of an event planner than a political fundraiser,” an Illinois GOP source told Prairie State Wire.
Chirico, 57, is married to Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, a close ally of Durkin and his top strategist David Walsh.
Walsh and his brother, Tom, a prolific Illinois lobbyist, were both significant contributors to Chirico's 2015 mayoral campaign, though neither live in Naperville.
Experienced fundraisers enforce discipline on elected officials, ensuring they allocate time to filling their campaign coffers. Durkin and others, sources say, have simply stopped asking for contributions, leading traditional Republican constituencies to stop giving.
The Illinois State Medical Society, which represents doctors, donated $1,002,512 to state political campaigns in the 1999-2000 election cycle, or approximately $1.43 million, inflation-adjusted.
In 2015-16, it donated just $536,904, 60 percent less.
The Illinois Manufacturer's Association donated $453,058 in 1999-2000, or $649,381.
In 2015-16, it gave just $138,311.
"Illinois Republicans' fundraising infrastructure has been destroyed," said a suburban GOP official who has helped raise money for candidates since the 1980s. "The legislative leaders just rely on the governor. But what are they going to do when he is gone?"
Illinois House GOP Outside Fundraising, 1997 vs. 2017
House Republican Leader James Durkin (R-Western Springs) is relying on Gov. Bruce Rauner to fund his campaigns, raising little money from traditional Republican groups or citizens.
How does this approach contrast from that of his predecessors?
|Year||Committee||Nominal $||Adjusted $||Total Contributions|
|1997||House Republican Campaign Committee||$979,314||$1,506,002||1,019|
|2017||House Republican Organization||$220,300||110|
Source: Illinois State Board of Elections; Contributions don't include transfers from candidate political action committees of political parties; 2017 HRO contributions through nine months are adjusted to full year, assuming current rate of fundraising.