Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Rauner Buying His Way Into Hearts of Local Pols

Candidate is funding Republican political organizations across the state

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Rauner Buying His Way Into Hearts of Local Pols

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WINNETKA, IL - MARCH 18: Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bruce Rauner gives the thumbs-up after casting his ballot in the Illinois primary election on March 18, 2014 in Winnetka, Illinois. Rauner, a private equity manager, faces off against State Senator Bill Brady, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and State Senator Kirk Dillard in the Republican primary. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

In order to win a statewide political race, you need at least four things: 
  • An appealing enough personality to gain votes. 
  • Enough money to fund a successful campaign. 
  • A good enough message to convince voters you’re the man for the job. 
  • Political friends across the state willing to work for you. 

By all appearances, Republican Bruce Rauner came into the 2014 gubernatorial race with the first three things well in hand.
 
As a first-time politician, however, the fourth one—not so much.
 
That’s why Rauner is spreading his own brand of political love across the state among local Republican political organizations. The preferred method of winning friends and influencing enemies in his own party? Write them big checks and hope they'll pay him back in turn come Election Day.
 
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Rauner and his wife, Diane, have been making personal contributions to Republican candidates and political organizations across the state, all in an effort to build a bigger base of support than simply flooding the TV airwaves would achieve.
 
Even as he has poured $9.6 million of his own money into his campaign, Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor, has also been dipping more heavily into his personal wealth to help finance GOP candidates and groups, records show.
 
Rauner, a Winnetka venture capitalist worth hundreds of millions of dollars, would not comment on his increased giving to fellow Republicans.
 
His campaign spokesman, Mike Schrimpf, said the contributions aren’t an effort to buy support.
 
What’s notable is that the checks the Rauners are writing aren’t exactly chicken feed. Since the start of 2013, the Sun-Times reports, the Rauners have made 119 political contributions — giving a total of more than $265,000 — to 75 Republican organizations across Illinois. Even more, Rauner’s campaign fund, Citizens for Rauner, gave $750,000 earlier this month to the Illinois Republican Party, on top of $750,000 in July and $525,000 in June. 
 
Amounts like that can buy a whole lot of political types willing to knock on doors, make pitch calls and lick envelopes on your behalf.
 
And the strategy appears to be working. The Sun-Times quotes half a dozen Republican political organizations as saying their group is backing Rauner or actively engaging in political work on his behalf.
 
Which means it looks like the strategy is a brilliant political move, if it weren’t also at the same time a matter of necessity. The Illinois GOP hasn't exactly been winning any awards for most effective state political party as of late. Not only has it seen it’s share of public infighting and constant bickering over the issues, it recently underwent a contentious battle over who would lead the state’s political apparatus.
 
At the same time, its statewide bench of political candidates is so thin that the best it could muster up to challenge sitting U.S. Senator Dick Durbin was Jim Oberweis, a candidate best known for losing five of his last six elections.
 
In fact, the lack of a robust, statewide political organization all pulling in the same direction and enthusiastic about its candidate—at least on the Republican side—is one of the least commented upon aspects of the 2014 campaign.
 
For all of his problems, Rauner’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn, is a known entity within his party, and can bank on the support of key constituent groups, such as unions, liberals, big-city voters and the like. Along with local party chiefs and activists willing to get out the vote on his behalf.
 
To achieve the same level of parity, Bruce Rauner, in essence, has to rebuild a statewide party apparatus at the same time he’s running his own campaign.
 
So, when a Rauner spokesman says dipping into the candidate’s personal wealth for donations to Republican political groups isn't an effort to buy support, make sure you take his words with a huge grain of salt.
 
After all, how else do you make sure you’re getting what you want from someone if you don't flat out pay them

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