Illinois flooded without outside spending on U.S. House races
SPRINGFIELD — A massive amount of outside spending on congressional races in Illinois underscores the importance of the Land of Lincoln when it comes to parties’ swinging or retaining control of the U.S. House on Election Day.
It also shows a diminishing amount of local influence in such races now, Illinois political experts say.
“These races have all been so nationalized that any sense of local control has just been lost,” said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “Local funding is important, but it’s a minor part of the story now.”
Illinoisans across the state can see the effects of outside spending just by turning on the television, where seemingly endless political ads, mostly for congressional races, are wedged between programming — or, rather, where programming is wedged in among the political ads.
Only California has garnered more outside attention and spending than Illinois, according to the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, an organization that uses technology to present convoluted government and election information to voters.
The 10 states where the most outside money for U.S. House races has been spent:
California – $52.4 million;
Illinois – $43.5 million;
New York – $33.7 million;
Arizona – $17.8 million;
Ohio – $17.5 million;
Florida – $16.3 million;
Pennsylvania – $12.4 million;
Nevada – $11.7 million;
Iowa – $11.6 million;
Colorado – $10.8 million.
The 17thDistrict U.S. House race in Illinois between incumbent Republican Robert Schilling and Democrat Cheri Bustos has had the most outside spending. The total independent expenditures in the race amount to $8.8 million.
The top two independent groups, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee, which are the official campaign arms of each party for House races, spent almost $5 million to oppose the two candidates. The DCCC spent nearly $2.8 million to oppose Schilling, and the NRCC spent $2.1 million to oppose Bustos.
In all, independent groups spent more than $4 million to oppose Schilling, while spending only just more than $182,000 in support of him. Meanwhile, they spent $4.4 million to oppose Bustos and almost $247,000 to support her.
Outside money was spent on such expenses as media, survey research, phone calls, voter contact, postage, broadcast and newspaper ads, printing and graphic design, and “bird-dogging” and rallies.
What makes Illinois so special this election? Several factors, said Kent Redfield, a campaign-finance expert and political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Chief among them are the Democratic-favored map redraw, coupled with a desire by each party to win enough seats in the U.S. House to influence control of Congress. Both parties have opportunities to win seats.
“Republicans are on offense, and Democrats have to play defense,” Redfield said. “The candidates have raised and spent money themselves, but these outside groups are looking for opportunities to make gains in places where they need to. Frustrated Republicans are looking to blunt the Democrats’ momentum, and the Democrats are looking to make this a building block to taking back the House.”
The second-highest amount of outside money — almost $7.4 million — was spent in the 12th U.S. House District, a longtime Democratic stronghold, where Republican Jason Plummer is running against Democrat William Enyart. The DCCC spent about $2.8 million to oppose Plummer, and the NRCC spent about $1.1 million to oppose Enyart.
Third on the list of outside spending — at $7.2 million — is the 11th District U.S. House race with Republican Judy Biggert and Democrat Bill Foster. There, outside groups spent $2.5 million opposing Biggert and $1.4 million supporting her. On the flip side, $3.3 million — most by the NRCC — was spent opposing Foster and just over $12,000 by groups supporting him.
The landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission declared that the government could not restrict corporations from donating money to campaigns. The court cited free-speech rights. The result was an avalanche of spending on the 2012 races.
Jackson said the Citizens United case was a “disastrous decision for the quality of American campaigns.”
“I think, philosophically, one has to ask where is the national interest or the common good in all of this,” he said. “If the national interest is the guy with the most money has the biggest megaphone, then you like Citizens United (the decision). But if there’s some sense that people giving $25 to $150 should be the backbone of campaign finance, and thus nobody is sold out, then you worry about this trend.”
The lack of accountability and restraint by the groups doing the spending also can be problematic, Redfield said. It’s confusing for voters, too, who are left trying to make sense of the barrage of political advertising — determining who paid for which ads, why they did so and whether or not the ads are truthful.
“They really don’t care who represents the 13th District, and they really don’t have any concern about what happens in central Illinois after Election Day,” he said. “They’re worried about Rs and Ds in terms of who’s voting for speaker of the House. That makes for a coarsening and increased negativity.”
And ultimately Illinois voters and elected officials have difficult decisions ahead, such as accepting spending cuts or tax hikes to deal with debt, particularly at the state level.
“I think people are very disaffected with the political system. This will continue that erosion of the public’s faith in the process and the outcomes. You can’t sustain that over time, particularly in an era when we have so many difficult choices,” Redfield said.
“You’re really asking people to make sacrifices and trust political leaders and the process, and those things are headed in the opposite direction in the way that politics is being practiced.”
Contact Jayette Bolinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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