Illinois PIRG Education Fund
As we approach ten years since Citizens United v. FEC, the growing dominance of a small group of big donors in Illinois elections is undeniable. From City Council to Governor, political campaigns are increasingly fueled by a small number of donors who make contributions far larger than average voters can afford. Increasingly, to run a competitive race, a candidate cannot rely primarily on small donors, but instead needs to draw on the small number of large donors who can afford to make big contributions, from their personal wealth, or from the war chests of established political players.
As the presence of big money in politics grows, the voices of small donors are increasingly stifled. Large donors not only drown out small donors through the sheer size of their contributions, their amplified influence is felt in other aspects of the political process as well. As a result, ordinary Americans may feel their contributions are unlikely to make a difference. Fewer than 10 percent of Americans have ever given to political candidates at any level.
This dynamic permeates elections at all levels in Illinois. In the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial election, two self-funding candidates broke previous campaign finance records — set just four years earlier — but big money played an outsized role in races for other statewide offices and for seats in the General Assembly. We have previously documented this in the race for Governor, Attorney General, and state legislative races (part I, part II) and recent analysis by Reform for Illinois came to similar findings.
With Rahm Emanuel not seeking reelection, a crowded field of fourteen candidates is on the ballot for Chicago Mayor. A wider field of candidates has not, however, led to a broader, more diverse pool of campaign donors. Nor has the emergence of online small donor fundraising seen at the national level occurred in the Mayoral race.
This report analyzes campaign contributions made to the campaign committees of the fourteen
Chicago mayoral candidates. We analyzed quarterly and itemized reports campaign committees made to the Illinois State Board of Elections between January 1, 2018 to February 19, 2019 — one week before the municipal election.
The picture is clear. Current campaign finance laws force candidates to raise the majority of their resources from a small pool of large donors, whether individual and corporate donors, campaign committees affiliated with party leaders, or labor unions, simply to compete. Small donors have little to no voice in the process.