Following the Money in Illinois Politics

By Bruce Donnelly

— Polls consistently show that voters favor more disclosure of political donations. Democrats and liberal media routinely decry the influence of “millionaires and billionaires” even as they raise more money from them than Republicans.

The reality is that few people ever look at the vast amount of campaign finance disclosure information which is readily available online. Instead, it is largely used as a tool to intimidate donors through media stories which imply that Republicans are all funded by corrupt lobbyists or cronies buying influence or government favors and contracts, while Democrats are relying on small donors to defend the interests of the poor and middle class against the evil rich capitalists.

That’s when they aren’t busy engaging in pay to play politics and doing high priced fundraisers among millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street or in Hollywood and elsewhere who favor the Democrats. Think about it. Where has Obama spent much of his time in office? When he isn’t on the golf course or lecturing us to be nice to Muslims, he is often at fundraisers raising millions of dollars for the party. Hillary and Bill Clinton have also become immensely rich as politicians.

For perspective, you can do your own research through websites such as or look at detailed records of campaign finance reports and individual donations through or the Illinois State Board of Elections

OpenSecrets is easy to use, but the government disclosure websites are cumbersome and confusing, perhaps by design. Political campaign workers and journalists or lobbyists know how to use the sites for their interests, but voters rarely use them. They serve largely as opposition research tools for seeking any harmful information or mistakes in reports as compliance violations or an excuse for criticism.

Careful analysis can yield surprising information and trends, but few voters have the time or inclination to do research. They favor transparency, but expect somebody else to do the oversight work. That means the analysis is largely performed by liberal media and campaigns looking for ways to criticize opponents.

The data becomes a tool for the media to selectively go after Republicans while rarely bothering to do serious analysis. They take the opposition research talking points from Democrats and repeat that narrative without seriously investigating or reporting on what the Democrtic campaigns are doing.

While liberal progressive organizations have tended to focus on tools for attacking their political opponents in elections, conservative groups have put more focus on transparency in government, such as disclosure of how taxpayer money is being spent or wasted.

Two good examples are and Illinois Leaks by the Edgar County Watchdogs at

The liberal progressive focus is on their political rivals to constrain their campaign fundraising, while conservative groups tend to focus more on what is wasted after politicians of either party get elected and do their deals.

What harm is it to you if somebody gives their own after-tax money to support the candidates of their choice? By contrast, what is the harm to you when politicians spend trillions more tha taxpayers can afford to pay?

People should be free to donate their own money without intimidation in the absence of some corrupt quid pro quo. Would you really favor having taxpayer money spent to fund campaigns, as Democrats often propose? That would just give a permanent advantage to the incumbents who can write the rules to perpetuate their own power and influence. Voters beware!

Indeed, politicians in both parties already write the rules for political fundraising to favor incumbents, not voters.

Soon after the 2014 election, both Republicans and Democrats quietly agreed to an obscure provision in the omnibus budget bill to raise individual donation limits for contributions to political party organizations from $32,400 to a whopping $324,000 per person. A family of millionaires can easily donate over $1 million this way.

Meanwhile, they left the limits for individual donations to a candidate campaign at $2700. That empowers party leaders to raise vast sums of money from millionaires and billionaires in BOTH parties, while it remains very difficult for any primary challengers to raise large sums of money. It protects the incumbents and their cronies. This perpetuates their power even if voters are not happy with how they are being represented. Once elected, it is very difficult to get rid of them. The rules favor them.