Thursday, October 30, 2008

Contenders to the Senate Presidency Donate Over $1 Million to Democratic Candidates to the State Senate

Belleville's Clayborne, Chicago's Cullerton Lead in Giving

In the weeks since Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, announced he would not seek reelection, contenders to replace him as Senate President have given more than $1 million to the campaigns of the candidates who likely will select the next Senate President -- other Democratic senators running for reelection and Democratic newcomers challenging Republican incumbents.

An analysis by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) and the Sunshine Project demonstrates the giant leap in campaign contributions by the men seeking to replace Jones. In the 18 months prior to Jones' retirement announcement, these senators transferred just $61,300 to other Senate Democrats.

"While money is easy to quantify, Senate Democrats will likely consider several factors when choosing their next leader," said Cindi Canary, Director of ICPR. "But it looks like they believe supporting other senators now with campaign funds will prompt those same senators to return the favor later by voting one of the benefactors into the top Senate job."

If the contest to succeed Jones turns on money, the top two candidates will be Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, who has given $418,000 to other Senate Democrats, and Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who has given $336,000.

Illinois has no limits on transfers of funds between candidates and no limits on contributions by special interests to candidates. Many of the donations made by the contenders would be illegal if made between candidates in most other states, or between candidates for federal office.

It will take 30 votes to elect the next Senate president. If neither Clayborne nor Cullerton can put together a coalition of 30 of their colleagues, a compromise candidate may emerge. Based on their transfers to Democratic Senate candidates, this second tier would include Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who has transferred $70,000; Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, who has transferred $60,000, and Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, who has transferred $58,000. Others giving at least $10,000 include Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, and Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi, D- Joliet.

Sen. Clayborne has transferred money from his own political committee, Friends of Clayborne. Top donors to his political committee include the Illinois Education Association, AT&T and Ameren.

Sen. Cullerton has used money from his committee, Citizens for John Cullerton, but he has also formed a new committee, the Senate Democratic Victory Fund. Top donors to his two funds include Chicago Wolves Chairman Don Levin, Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, her husband Leo Smith, and her parents Harrison and Lois Steans; and the Illinois Hospital Association. Of the second tier, only Sen. Schoenberg has created a new committee, Deep Blue Illinois, to augment giving by his own committee.

The show of fundraising prowess comes as the Senate Democrats hold 37 of the 59 seats in the Senate, with hopes that a strong Democratic turnout for their former colleague and current Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama will further bolster their numbers. Giving by the Illinois Senate Democratic Fund (ISDF), the caucus political committee which is still controlled by Senate President Jones, has been down appreciably this year compared to recent cycles (ISDF expenditures are down from $2.4 million in the comparable period in 2004 and $3.6 million in 2006 to $803,000 in 2008), but these presidential contenders have helped to make up some of the decline. Most of funds from contenders have been transferred to incumbents, but a handful of challengers are also benefiting. Top beneficiaries include:

• Sen. Gary Forby, D- Benton: $300,000
• Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora: $241,000
• Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge: $92,000
• Candidate Bill Gentes, a Democrat from Round Lake: $84,500
• Candidate Peter Gutzmer, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates: $76,500

Traditionally, legislative caucuses have looked to their leader to play several important roles. Fundraising is one of these, but other factors are expected to include political acumen in a divisive climate and responsiveness to caucus members. This is the first time a caucus leader has stepped down since 2003, when the new legislative map gave control of both chambers to the Democrats. Sen. Emil Jones has led the Senate Democratic Caucus since the retirement of Sen. Phil Rock in 1993.

This report is the third in a series during the final weeks of the 2008 General Election campaign season. For earlier reports, which covered contribution totals and top donors to legislative races and the constitutional convention question, visit ICPR and the Sunshine Project do not endorse candidates and have not taken a position on the con-con question.

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