Party and Outside Influence in the Illinois Senate Race

Given the competitiveness of the 2016 Senate Race in Illinois, numerous organizations have inundated the campaigns with funds, but some groups are prevented from making large donations. Mark Kirk, the current incumbent senator, is vulnerable, yet restrictions on political party organizations have limited the amount of money that can flow to him and his competitor, Tammy Duckworth (Herrnson, 102). These restrictions combined with the idea that “national committees’ involvement in…Senate elections tends to be relatively limited,” are clear after seeing the Republican Party donated a mere $46,800 to Kirk and the Democratic Party donated $48,300 to Duckworth (Herrnson, 94). Political parties still can fund candidates by hosting fundraisers, and President Obama’s visit to a Duckworth fundraising event in Chicago that supposedly will benefit the Illinois Coordinated Victory Fund shows this rather influential power (Crowder Meyer, October 5, 2016). Other than the president, some groups, such as the Chicago Tribune and the LPAC (Lesbian Political Action Committee) support Duckworth. Given the turmoil within the Republican Party, it is understandable that few party leaders endorse Kirk especially given criticism of his breaking away from the party’s nominee, Donald Trump. However, significant organizations and PACS, such as the Human Rights Campaign and Americans for Responsible Solutions, have thrown their support for the relatively moderate incumbent.

More importantly, however, than the national party’s direct influence on the campaign is the influence of PACs, organizations, and Super PACs given their generally fewer restrictions on the amount of legal campaign contributions (Crowder-Meyer, October 7, 2016). While Super PACs have spent large sums of money on both candidates, it is clear that Kirk supporters rather than those who support Duckworth have spent more money. A staggering $1,480,584, mostly from the Super PAC Independent Voice For Illinois, was spent towards opposing Tammy Duckworth while a mere $33,666 from a mix of Super PACs and 501c organizations sought to oppose Senator Kirk. These numbers, although enormously different, reflect the Republican financial advantage in this particular campaign and the general “trend toward a greater concentration in the sources of interest group money” rather than towards party organizations (Herrnson, 146).

After further investigation as to the source of the funds from the Independent Voice for Illinois, “the biggest donation to the group, $100,000 [as of April 2016] came from the Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., whose chairman, Robert Murray donated to Kirk’s 2010 Senate campaign.” Interest groups are “oftentimes just a very few number of highly wealthy individuals,” and evidence from the Chicago Sun-Times highlights this significant argument (Crowder-Meyer, October 7, 2016). Although these donation amounts seem exorbitant, outside spending in Illinois ranks twelfth out of twenty-five senate races, and the total spending of around $3.2 million fails to rival the top four Senate elections which have received at least $45 million from outside spenders. The Illinois Senate race remains competitive and an incredibly important race to win for Republicans if they want to maintain control of the Senate, but the surprising small amount of funds (relative to the other Senate elections) shows that perhaps this is not a significant ‘target’ race in the eyes of donors.

Upon examining the flow of money to support and damage Senator Kirk and Representative Duckworth’s campaigns, it seems party organizations do not donate nearly as much money to campaigns as outside groups (such as PACs, Super PACs and non-profits). Party organizations can “provide campaign services” and “influence strategy,” yet the enormous flow of money to candidates from outside sources highlights their increasing controversial importance in campaigns (Crowder-Meyer, October 5, 2016 and Herrnson, 145)



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