WASHINGTON — Heading into an expensive re-election campaign, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is cranking up his fundraising, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned, with Gov. Bruce Rauner ready to unleash his network of super wealthy donors to help Kirk win a second term.
“Got to make sure you are long and you are strong,” Kirk told me on Thursday. He said his next fundraising report will show contributions of $612,000 in the last few months for his 2016 race.
A source close to the megarich Rauner — who poured more than $20 million of his own money into his campaign for governor — told me, “Helping Mark get re-elected is a priority for him in 2016.”
On Monday in downtown Chicago, Rauner will be the draw at a lunch at the Union League Club, billed on the Kirk fundraising invitation as a “VIP reception and roundtable. The top price is $5,000 to be a “host.”
On Wednesday, on Capitol Hill, Kirk will muster all the top Republican Senate leadership on his behalf for an afternoon fundraiser at the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The reception draws include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas; Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. The prices range from $2,500 to $500.
On March 25, there is a “wine reception” for Kirk at DCanter, a wine boutique in southeast Washington, where the contribution levels range from $500 to $5,000 for a political action committee.
And on April 15, at a private town house near the Capitol, Kirk will have a fundraiser where the price ranges from $500 to $2,000.
Rauner brings Kirk more than just money.
Kirk also will inherit Rauner’s statewide political operation — fresh from Rauner’s victory over former Gov. Pat Quinn last November.
Kirk will be the beneficiary of a state Republican Party revived with the help of contributions from Rauner and energized by his win; the political talent pool Rauner put together, and intel from the ground game Rauner organized.
From what I hear, Kirk has not yet fully shaped his 2016 campaign organization. Illinois GOP insiders applauded his hiring Kevin Artl, who’s based in Chicago, as state director. He ran the political operation for former Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, who lost his bid for state treasurer in 2014.
While Rauner and his millionaire friends could simply write jumbo checks to assist his campaign and allied groups — Kirk has to operate under much stricter federal rules that cap donations.
Still, the financial firepower of Rauner et al will be a significant factor not only in direct funding but also in bankrolling the third-party groups expected to play a role in the contest.
In 2010, Kirk won a full term with 48 percent of the vote, beating Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, who garnered 46.4 percent.
The battle for the Illinois Senate seat is likely to be one of the biggest in 2016. So far, the only Republican threatening a primary is former Rep. Joe Walsh, now a radio talk-show host. No Illinois Democrat has committed to a bid yet, through the Democratic insiders are pushing Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to run.