If one were to seek out a single political contest in today’s America that encapsulates everything that is wrong with the political landscape, the race for governor of the State of Illinois would be it. Although more than a year away, the election of the State’s next governor is on track to be what The Daily Caller has described as “the most expensive statewide election in U.S. history.”
County-by-county, Illinois is mostly red but – as is the case with most Democrat-voting states – the vastly more populous urban centers are deep blue. The state is notorious for political corruption and runaway spending. Incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner, the first Republican to hold the office since 2002, has been unable to overcome the Democrat-controlled state legislature in his battle to right the ship. The Democratic Party has controlled the State Senate since 2003 and the House since 1997. Currently, Illinois is some $154 billion in debt with a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 18.5%. To compound this crisis, Illinois has not seen anything more than a stopgap budget for almost two years, with political paralysis, massive unfunded liabilities, billionaires running for office, and vast sums of money pouring into campaign coffers. The people of Illinois deserve better. Americans deserve better.
In his, as yet, unannounced bid for re-election, Rauner is facing off against a host of Democratic challengers; currently, six and counting. Politico puts the amount of money raised by all candidates, combined, at $90 million to-date and projects that total campaign spending may reach $300 million. Republicans are desperately trying to out-spend their opponents in the nation’ third most populous state. The multimillionaire incumbent has a war-chest of some $70 million, although one of his Democratic rivals, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, is one of the wealthiest men in the world. The Pritzker family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain.
Rauner has, so far, poured $50 million of his own money into his coffers and Pritzker, in turn, has financed his own campaign to the tune of $14 million, with the ability to throw in tens of millions more. Phil Musser is a former executive director of the Republican Governor’s Association. Politico quotes him as saying “In my 25 years of doing this professionally, I haven’t seen the kind of war chest of this size as early and as massively as we’re seeing in Illinois.”
The current record for the most expensive statewide political race was set in 2010 when Gerry Brown – himself a millionaire – defeated Meg Whitman in the California governor’s race. Whitman, a former executive of online giant eBay and former Hewlett Packard CEO, is worth more than $2 billion. The race for governor cost some $280 million in total. California, another state under long-time Democrat control, has a current total debt of some $460 billion.
Earlier this year, the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District became the most expensive congressional race in U.S. history, with a total of more than $50 million spent. Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff to hold the seat for the Republican Party, despite being massively outspent. Democrats from across the nation poured donations into Ossoff’s campaign, in what was seen as a largely symbolically significant election.
What any private citizen or, for that matter, elected official does with their own money is their own business, of course. It is a sobering thought, however, to consider the idea that the total amount of money projected to flow into this one race would wipe out the state’s debt, with more than $100 million to spare. More than ever before, political offices are being purchased and politicians themselves are making vast fortunes while in office. One could argue that Democrats are demonstrating particular hypocrisy, considering their mantra that the poor deserve more of the money that is earned by the wealthy. In truth, this outrageous feeding of a political habit more costly than any narcotic is a sickness that grips both sides of the political divide. A staggering amount of money spent to gain political power which, in turn, allows the elected to waste tremendous amounts of public funds. This is a financial black hole that grows by the year.
What could become of the country if those who donate to political campaigns – be they wealthy or of more modest income – simply gave up the practice and spent their money in more constructive ways? There are unpleasant implications that deserve exploring at some other time, but it might be something worth giving thought to if it drives down the cost of running for office.