Top 10 contested state races each now have $2M plus war chests

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Illinois State Comptroller Leslie Munger, left, and City Clerk Susana Mendoza are facing off in one of the most watched races, for state comptroller. Munger favors merging the comptroller and treasurer’s office. Mendoza is less sure. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In an unprecedented burst of political cash, there are now 10 state races with more than $2 million invested in each of them with just a month to go before the elections.

At the top of the list is the Illinois Comptroller’s race — incumbent Republican Leslie Munger versus Democratic Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza. As of Friday, the two combined campaigns had$7.4 million in their war chests, Munger largely ahead with $5.6 million.

Such big-money attention on the comptroller race is “certainly unprecedented,” said Sarah Brune, executive director for the non-partisan Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Last week, campaign finance records show Munger received a $260,000 loan from her husband, which passed the threshold to remove limits on the amounts both Munger and Mendoza can receive from individual donors. Then came $5 million from two donors: Packaging magnate and GOP mega donor Richard Uihlein gave $2 million on Sept. 27; two days later a $3 million donation was received by the state’s richest man, hedge fund manager Ken Griffin.

Then came the transfers. On Thursday, Munger’s committee transferred $2 million to the Illinois Republican Party. At the same time, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s candidate committee transferred $900,000 to the Illinois Republican Party. From there, the party transferred $900,000 to the House Republican Organization and $375,000 to the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee, records show.

Political parties and leadership funds can give unlimited contributions to individual candidates, even in races in which contribution limits are still in place. The cash-swapping is legal, and has been widely used by both Republicans and Democrats alike in this election cycle —a major factor in the skyrocketing price of political campaigns.

The caps can be blown in two different ways: if a candidate or a candidate’s family member contributes $250,000, as Munger’s husband did, or if any committee makes over $100,000 in independent expenditures on a candidate’s behalf, or against them, according to Brune.

That happened this week with Citizens for Durkin, the campaign committee of Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, despite him not facing an opponent this election season.

Turnaround Illinois — a super PAC led by allies of Gov. Bruce Rauner — spent more than $100,000 for radio ads supporting Durkin. That blew the cap, meaning he can now fundraise and transfer unlimited amounts of money to any political party committee.

“I expect that we will see more blowing the caps in uncontested races,” Brune said. “And I can’t imagine another reason for that than to provide them with unlimited fundraising.”

By using multiple political committees, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and his Democratic allies are able to gather more money from donors than would be allowed for a single committee under state campaign finance laws. Funds also are being moved from one committee to another.

Republicans and Democrats are using transfers to sendmoney to candidates in contested races. While six of the top 10 most expensive races are Illinois House seats — where Rauner is hoping to take a crack at Madigan’s Democratic veto-proof majority – both sides are spending big money on three Senate races, as well.

Here are the top 10 contested state races and total money raised so far, via the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Incumbents are listed first.

  1. Comptroller, Leslie Munger (R), Susana Mendoza (D): $7.42 million
  2. House, Michael. P. McAuliffe (R), Merry Marwig, (D): $2.61 million
  3. House, Daniel V. Beiser (D), Michael Babcock (R), $2.40 million
  4. House, John Bradley (D), Dave Severin (R), $2.375 million
  5. Senate, Melinda Bush (D), Michael Amrozowicz (R), $2.3 million
  6. Senate, Gary F. Forby (D), Dale Fowler (R), $2.27 million
  7. Senate, Thomas Cullerton, (D), Seth Lewis (R), $2.083 million
  8. House, Sam Yingling (D), Rod Drobinski (R), $2.052 million
  9. House, Katherine “Kate” Cloonen (D), Lindsay Parkhurst (R), $2.052 million
  10. House, LaToya N. Greenwood (D), Bob Romanik (R), $2.045 million
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