Republicans have spent nearly $2 million in television advertising to help a state lawmaker win a Chicago-area legislative district — the most spent on air time for any legislative candidate in the nation.
A new report by the Center for Public Integrity released Thursday shows the Chicago-area contest has helped makeIllinois the state with the most money spent on TV ads for legislative candidates across the country this election cycle. Nearly $14 million has been spent on legislative races in Illinois since Jan. 1, 2015, a staggering amount that reflects the struggle between wealthy Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders amid an epic budget stalemate. Democrats are trying to strengthen their control of the Legislature while Rauner is trying to give his party greater influence.
Rauner has contributed $14 million to the Illinois Republican Party to support GOP candidates. By comparison, the state with the second-highest amount devoted to legislative races is Florida at about $8 million.
The Illinois race with most money spent on ads pits GOP Rep. Michael McAuliffe, a 20-year veteran of the House, against Democrat Merry Marwig, a political newcomer on leave from her job at a Chicago software company.
McAuliffe is the only Republican legislator in Chicago, representing what's considered a moderate district northwest of the city center that many police officers, firefighters, and teachers call home. The district includes part of Park Ridge, the neighborhood where Hillary Clinton grew up.
Democrats have a comfortable supermajority in the state Senate, but in the House it's a fragile one. If any one of their 71 members defects, they lose their power to override vetoes from Rauner. McAuliffe's district is an appealing pick-up opportunity for Democrats, especially in a year when Hillary Clinton is running for president, so it's not unexpected for Republicans to try to defend his seat.
Even so, the amount they're spending is remarkable. In 2012, for example, the Republicans' two major party committees spent just over $2 million combined on all races from July 1 through Sept. 30.
"We are talking about unprecedented numbers," said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois in Springfield who specializes in campaign finance.
The House Republican Organization, which receives its funding from the Illinois Republican Party, has paid for most of McAuliffe's television advertising.
Marwig has spent about $187,690 on television ads so far, according to figures from the Center for Public Integrity.
The $14 million spent so far on television ads in Illinois includes $1.5 million spent by Juliana Stratton, who defeated Rep. Ken Dunkin, a fellow Democrat in the March primary.