Campaign Finance in Illinois Senate Race

As Kirk and Duckworth’s campaigns prepare for the final few weeks before Election Day, the fight for raising funds from a variety of outlets continues. This election has one incumbent and one challenger, and it is clear that “incumbency is the primary explanation for differences in campaign fund-raising” when looking at pure data from the Federal Elections Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics (Herrnson, 170). Both Kirk and Duckworth have raised a similar amount of money, Kirk having raised $11,321,067 and Duckworth having raised $10,115,839, but their fundraising outlets are surprisingly different.

Mark Kirk, being an incumbent Republican, had more cash to start his campaign, than Tammy Duckworth, and this difference in starting money is significant. Herrnson explains that the “Senate incumbents’ most immediate advantage at the beginning of the election cycle is the funds already in their possession.” (196) Mark Kirk had more than two million dollars at the beginning of January 2015, and was already well prepared for this difficult campaign. However, Tammy Duckworth had $0 at the beginning of January 2015 and had plenty of work ahead of her to compete with Kirk’s already notable funding lead.

In addition to there being an enormous difference between Kirk and Duckworth’s starting money in January 2015, both candidates received strikingly different percentages of funding to their campaign from small individual contributions. Tammy Duckworth has funded 30% of her campaign from small individual contributions, which is significantly larger than the 15% average funding from small individual contributions that the Center for Responsive Politics and Federal Election Commission reported in the 2014 Senate elections (Herrnson, 194). It is clear that Duckworth is raising more money from small donors than normal which suggests that she is possibly more attractive to average Americans. For Kirk, small individual contributions are an insignificant part of his campaign funding. A mere 7% of the money raised by Kirk’s campaign came from individual contributions and reflects Kirk’s greater reliance on large contributions and PACs. As Francia et. al note, “Democratic donors are somewhat less affluent than GOP donors,” which supports findings that Tammy Duckworth, as the Democrat, receives more small donations while Mark Kirk, receives fewer small donations but a greater number of large individual contributions (37-39).

While Duckworth receives significantly more money more from small donations than Kirk, the incumbent raises more money from PACS, particularly business PACs, than his opponent. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that 25% of the incumbents’ contributions came from PACS while only 10% of contributions raised in Duckworth’s campaign came from PACs. It is no surprise that the GOP leader has more support from PACS as Herrnson notes that “GOP candidates [have enjoyed] somewhat more success with PACS,” but it is astounding that such a large percentage of Kirk’s campaign financing comes from large donors (Herrnson, 194). In fact, 77% of these PAC donations came from business PACs which suggests many of these donors could be investors who are hoping for “material incentives” (Crowder-Meyer, October, 14, 2016). On the other hand, Tammy Duckworth has received 44%, the largest PAC donor group, from ideological PACs which suggests that perhaps ideologues with specific policy hopes are contributing to her campaign (Crowder-Meyer, October 14, 2016). After looking at numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics, one can see that Kirk receives more contributions from PACs, the majority of which are from business PACs, compared to his competitor who receives significantly less donations from PACs, although the majority of which are from ideological PACs.

When analyzing any campaign, it is important to understand its particular financing strategy and the identities of donors as they have the power to “prevent equal representation” or “engage [the public] in politics.” (Crowder-Meyer, October 14, 2016). With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how the winner of this election will serve the people of Illinois given how one candidate relies on large donors and PACs, mostly from businesses, while the other depends on small independent contributions to fund their campaign.



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