Even in the age of billionaire candidates, million-dollar campaign contributions have a way of getting people’s attention.
That was the case Wednesday after a disclosure from state Rep. Scott Drury that he had received a $1 million donation from venture capitalist Steven N. Miller in Drury’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general.
It’s the largest single donation reported to date in the eight-candidate attorney general race that was already distracted by campaign finance issues.
Vying for media attention in the shadow of the higher profile race for governor, some attorney general candidates have complained that the campaign has devolved into a contest over who can raise the most money for television advertising.
If that’s true, that would put Drury in the thick of the battle with the perceived frontrunners, state Sen. Kwame Raoul and former Gov. Pat Quinn, although it could be difficult to translate the money into votes with less than a week left to the March 20 election.
The million-dollar donation was nearly as much money as Drury had previously reported compiling ($1.1 million) since he started his campaign last fall after incumbent Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she would not seek re-election.
Drury has had difficulty breaking through with his message that he’s the true “independent reform candidate” in the race, polling in the single digits throughout the campaign.
But the Highwood legislator told me Wednesday his own internal polling shows he is “trending up.”
Drury conceded he is still only at 8 percent or 9 percent overall, but said he’s reached double digits in the suburbs and Downstate.
In an interview, Miller said it was that momentum, coupled with a high percentage of undecided voters in the race (anywhere from 30 percent to 45 percent), that convinced him to make the investment.
“I believe we have an opportunity for reform here in a state that badly needs it,” said Miller, who had already donated $241,000 to Drury’s campaign.
As we reported Sunday, Miller was a major donor two years ago to an independent expenditure committee, Illinois United for Change, that spent $1 million trying to help Jason Gonzalez unseat House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Drury’s distinction is that he’s the only Democrat in the Illinois House who didn’t vote for Madigan for speaker.
Miller voted in Republican primaries in recent years, but in Democratic primaries before that. And he’s donated to both Republicans and Democrats.
Miller is vice-chair of the Better Government Association, for which he said he has donated more money than he has to Drury.
He said his decision to make the big donation was “completely independent” of a secretly–funded independent expenditure campaign that was launched against Drury last week.
Fight Back for a Better Tomorrow PAC revealed it was spending $600,500 to oppose Drury, but did not disclose the source of its money.
This week it dumped another $675,000 into a campaign to oppose Quinn.
The chairman of Fight Back for a Better Tomorrow PAC is James Sweeney, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which has been Raoul’s biggest financial supporter.
The obvious nexus of the efforts to block Drury and Quinn is that they accrue to the benefit of Raoul, who has raised the bulk of his reported $2.8 million donations from organized labor.
Contribution limits in the attorney general’s race were lifted when Drury “blew the caps” on Christmas Eve with the disclosure that he and his father had donated a combined $295,000 to his campaign.
But opponents have been busy raising money of their own.
Quinn disclosed that his son David, an investment manager with United Income Inc., had loaned $250,000 to his campaign. He also reported a $100,000 donation from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters PAC, the notable exception among labor support for Raoul.
Raoul this week also reported his second bundling of $100,000 donations from entities associated with Rivers Casino owner Neil Bluhm.