With the 2018 primary still a year away, Gov. Bruce Rauner is already on television screens throughout the state, targeting Democrats for using “duct tape” to fix the state’s financial problems.
That’s because an arm of the Republican Governors Association has purchased a total of $1.05 million worth of TV time to air 15- and 30-second advertisements featuring Rauner in five TV markets statewide: Chicago, Champaign-Springfield, Rockford, Quad-Cities and Peoria-Bloomington, records show. The ads began running on Tuesday and will continue through April 9.
According to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the ads are labeled “non-candidate advertising” and concern “Illinois governmental and fiscal reform” — so they’re not technically political campaign ads that must be reported to the state’s election board.
But the ads still show the unprecedented nature of the 2018 race for governor in that Rauner — who’s expected to have no serious challenger in the GOP primary — is on TV months before incumbent candidates for governor normally appear in television commercials.
Rauner says the ads have nothing to do with his hopes of being re-elected. Instead, they’re focused on getting a state budget deal passed.
“I hope and believe that messaging to the people of Illinois about what’s going on and what’s at stake will help us get an agreement in the General Assembly, help us get a balanced budget with structural changes to grow jobs, protect our taxpayers, get term limits,” he said this week. “And from time to time, we have used and we will use paid media to communicate to the people of Illinois.”
In the 30-second ad, Rauner — seated in a workshop and wearing a plaid shirt – accuses Democrats of using duct tape to fix the state’s problems: “After decades of ignoring problems, it’s time someone fixes them,” he says.
The governor then says he’ll help to fix the state by freezing property taxes, capping spending, creating jobs and creating term limits.
The ads point to a website called FixIllinois.com.
Since they are paid for by State Solutions — a tax-exempt social-welfare organization that is an affiliate of the Republican Governors Association — they don’t have to be disclosed to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“It’s an issue ad about the governor’s plan to balance the budget and grow jobs,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe explained.
The Chicago Sun-Times used records filed with television stations to get information about the ad buy and then called State Solutions to confirm the total amount spent. The organization said the ad buy was in the “seven figures.”
Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, called the buy problematic because of the legal “loophole” that allows it to go unreported to state election officials.
“That’s a problem because that’s underreported money being used to influence a state race,” Brune said. “There’s a bill right now that would require 501(c)4’s to register as political committees. This has been an issue in other states as well. It’s sort-of known as dark money in politics.”
A bipartisan bill to close the loophole has been introduced in the Illinois Senate but has not yet made it to the Senate floor for a vote.
Brune noted that Rauner’s $50 million contribution to his campaign fund last year also was unprecedented in its timing and amount.
“It seems as though the campaigning is unending,” she said. “It’s continuous, and I think many Illinois residents and voters are just exhausted by the amount of ads that ran through the 2016 elections.”
Rauner was one of three Republican governors who in January attended a weekend summit in California hosted by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers are top contributors to the Republican Governors Association, which then contributes to candidates, including Rauner. Records show Rauner’s campaign committee received $8.75 million from the association beginning in March 2014.
Businessman Chris Kennedy, Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, and Madison County schools superintendent Bob Daiber are among the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for governor. Billionaire J.B. Pritzker has formed an exploratory committee for governor, and Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers is also considering a run.