State Rep. Ken Dunkin, a Democrat who has bucked powerful Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, Monday raked in what may be the largest single Illinois legislative primary donation on record — a $500,000 windfall from a Republican-tied group.
The staggering contribution came from the coffers of the Illinois Opportunity Project, cofounded by former Republican gubernatorial candidate and conservative radio host Dan Proft, in a primary race with only Democratic contenders.
The Illinois Opportunity Project decided that “a substantial financial commitment” was warranted to support Dunkin “against the onslaught he is facing” from Madigan and the speaker’s “public sector union allies in the March primary election,” the group said in a news release Monday.
The Republican-tied group lauded Dunkin, a South Side Democrat, for not “toeing the party line,’’ as dictated by Madigan. It cited in particular Dunkin’s protection of “honest adversarial collective bargaining between the governor and public sector unions” and his 2010 vote for “school choice.”
Normally, a 501c4 nonprofit such as the Illinois Opportunity Project would have been limited to contributions of $10,800 in such a race, said State Board of Elections general counsel Ken Menzel.
But that cap was blown less than a week ago, when the “independent expenditure committee” of IllinoisGO spent more than $140,000 for field work supporting Dunkin, Menzel said.
IllinoisGO is run by Chicago political operative Greg Goldner.
Under Illinois law, an independent expenditure committee has no spending limits, although it is barred from coordinating with candidates.
However, if it spends beyond $100,000 to benefit a candidate, then all limits are lifted for all candidates and all donors in that race. Gov. Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel each won their elections in races in which normal campaign contributions caps were blown.
Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert, called the half-million-dollar contribution the largest single Illinois legislative primary contribution since at least 1976, when the State Board of Elections started keeping track of political contributions.
“It’s a huge contribution,’’ said Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
“When you have high-profile races, caps in Illinois law are irrelevant,” Redfield said. “They are going to get waived.”
The Dunkin windfall sends the message that “good things happen to you if you support the governor,’’ Redfield said.
In the past, Dunkin dissed Madigan at key moments by not showing up to vote. His absence left Madigan short of votes needed to empower state union negotiators in their talks with Rauner negotiators and to override Rauner vetoes of spending for social services and other areas.
Dunkin recently accused Madigan of holding the state “hostage” to “political shenanigans” by not helping to solve the budget stalemate. He told reporters he was willing to lock himself in a room with House Democrats to come up with a solution.
He is being challenged in the March 15 primary by Juliana Stratton. The winner of that race, is the heavy favorite to win the seat because so far no Republicans are vying for the spot.
The Illinois Opportunity Project describes itself as promoting “public policy solutions rooted in economic liberty and the leaders who advance such solutions. We are policy-focused and thus post-partisan,” the group said in its Monday news release.