Illinois Primaries Smash Campaign Spending Records

Illinois campaign spending records were broken as part of a partisan battle for control of the state legislature

Nearly $13 million was spent on three Illinois primary races that were largely considered to be proxy battles between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

A million dollars more was spent on these three races than was spent on every Illinois House and Senate primary in 2014. 

Incumbent state Rep. Ken Dunkin lost to Juliana Stratton in the Democratic primary for his 5th House District. No Republicans appeared on the ballot, so the primary was decisive.

More than $6.1 million was spent over the course of the race, the most money spent on a race for the Illinois legislature in the state's history. 

Dunkin came under fire from fellow Democrats after he broke up the Democratic super-majority in the Illinois House of Representatives last year, siding with Gov. Bruce Rauner on certain budget issues.

Dunkin spent $4.1 million and was largely funded by groups associated to Rauner.

Nevertheless, Stratton rode a wave of high-profile endorsements to defeat Dunkin by a margin of 2-1. She spent $2 million and was backed primarily by labor groups.

In addition to this, nearly $4 million was spent on the Republican primary for the state’s 50th Senate District. In that race, incumbent state Sen. Sam McCann defeated state trooper Bryce Benton, who was also bankrolled by Rauner’s camp. Benton spent more than $3 million over the course of the campaign.

This came in the wake of McCann’s decision to side with Democrats on a bill to push stalled union contracts into arbitration.

Madigan, the clear winner of the proxy battle with Rauner, also retained his 22nd District Illinois House seat after beating out political newcomer Jason Gonzales. In that race, Madigan spent $2.4 million, while Gonzales spent roughly $800,000. His campaign was largely funded by a PAC associated with millionaire and former U.S. Senate candidate Blair Hull.

The previous spending record for a primary race for a seat in Illinois’ general assembly was $1.2 million. This came during a 2014 Democratic primary between state Rep. Christian Mitchell and Jay Travis.  

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