When buzz began to grow in 2012 over a possible run for governor, Republican businessman Bruce Rauner was still relatively unknown to Illinois voters. Since then, records show Rauner has donated nearly $10 million of his own fortune to his campaign in an effort to change that.
During that same time, there have been drastic changes in Rauner’s donation habits to other campaigns as well, the Better Government Association found while analyzing contribution records on file with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Among the BGA’s findings:
- Local political donations by Rauner and his wife, Diana, saw a dramatic jump since Rauner’s name began being frequently mentioned as a candidate for governor. From 1998 through 2011, the Rauners personally donated $1.1 million to various Illinois political campaigns – both groups and candidates. Since then, they’ve donated roughly $1.5 million (not including Rauner’s donations to his own campaign.)
- Prior to 2012, Rauner would sometimes donate to Democrats, including $200,000 to now-former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and $250,000 to former Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, now the CTA president. Rauner’s last donation to a Democrat was Daley in 2006.
- Since the beginning of 2013, the Rauners donated heavily to various Republican groups around the state. All told, they donated to GOP groups at least 119 times, spreading more than $265,000 to at least 75 GOP organizations.
One such group, the Downers Grove Township Republican Organization, received $500 from the Rauners in July 2013, and another $5,000 in April of this year. The group’s chairman, Brian Krajewski, said there was no quid pro quo but added that candidates sometimes donate to groups like his in an attempt to curry favor.
“If they want more support from your organization, they’ll give a little more,” Krajewski said.
Krajewski said his organization ended up endorsing then-state Sen. Kirk Dillard’s failed bid for governor before the GOP primary, but has since thrown its weight behind Rauner, whom the group first met last summer.
The Rock Island County Republican Central Committee, received $1,000 from Rauner in September 2013, and that group’s chairman, Mike Steffen, said that money did not amount to a primary endorsement.
“We were quite surprised and pleased that he would think enough of our [Rock Island County GOP] fundraiser to donate,” Steffen said. But, “the donation did not sway [our] votes. We were split among the four primary candidates.”
These days, Steffen’s organization is busy making phone calls, passing out campaign literature and writing letters to the editor of local newspapers in support of Rauner. But, he said they would have “accomplished those tasks without his donation.”
Another group, the Chicago Young Republicans, received $10,500 from Rauner in April 2013. Chairman Brian Matos said his group did not endorse a candidate in the primary, and it is using the money “to recruit young Chicagoans to volunteer for statewide voter outreach efforts.”
And, just a few days after the March primary, the Northfield Township Regular Republican Organization received $5,000 after endorsing Rauner in that race. But, Committeeman Peter Amarantos said his group was backing Rauner donation or no donation.
“I can’t be bought,” he said.
Rauner refused to comment for this story. But his campaign spokesman, Mike Schrimpf, said such donations were not an effort to buy support.
“[R]egardless of what happens in the governor’s race, [Rauner] is committed to rebuilding the Republican Party. That includes helping not just the state and national party, but local” Republicans, Schrimpf wrote in an email.
Democrats currently control both chambers of the General Assembly, in addition to the governor’s office, now held by Rauner’s November general-election opponent, Pat Quinn. He, in contrast to Rauner, doesn’t appear to have made a personal campaign donation in several years, records show.
Rauner began his quest for governor as an “unknown” outside of business circles, according to Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While he’s blitzed the TV airwaves with commercials looking to change that, gaining support from grassroots groups will be just as important to Rauner’s chances of winning, he said.
“He really wants to do what he can to drum up enthusiasm across the state, and he’s decentralizing the get-out-the-vote effort. He wants the local groups involved,” Gaines said. “If you just go to the airwaves . . . you turn off some of those voters in the middle who don’t like negative mudslinging.”
Krajewski said many times candidates will donate to local political groups from their campaign funds, but in Rauner’s case, he was able to do it from his personal fortune. Rauner is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, making his fortune in private equity.
“If you have the money, it’s great. Other candidates don’t necessarily have the money, so they’ve gotta decide what to do with the money they have,” Krajewski said.
While the BGA analyzed donations from Rauner’s personal finances, his campaign fund recently stepped up support of fellow Republicans in the state as well. State records show Citizens for Rauner, Inc., gave $750,000 this past week to the Illinois Republican Party, on top of $750,000 donated in July, and another $525,000 in June.
As a matter of full disclosure, the Rauner Family Foundation has been a major BGA donor in the past, and Rauner sat on a BGA advisory committee, but the financial and advisory relationships ended when his campaign for governor began.