Illinois and the Battle for Campaign Finance Reform

Daniel Biss
Daniel Biss

Money in politics has always been a major issue in America. From corporations and interest groups funding politicians so long as they protect corporate interests, to billionaires running for office and using their bank account to drown out the competition. This may lead some people to ask themselves, “Who is really in control of our government?”

A shining example of this issue is represented in the Illinois Gubernatorial race. As of now, the front-runners for both parties are billionaires. J.B. Pritzker, an entrepreneur and philanthropist with a net worth of $3.4 Billion leads the polls among Democrats. On the flip side, current Governor Bruce Rauner leads the Republican polls. Both candidates have already poured massive amounts of their own money into their campaigns. Pritzker has given himself $35 million, while Rauner has given himself $50 million. In the Democratic primary race, Pritzker’s funds have already created a major impact. His large campaign funds caused candidate Ameya Pawar to drop out. The ex-candidate told his supporters he “lacked the campaign cash needed to fully organize and compete across Illinois compared to better-funded and wealthier rivals in the March 2018 primary election.

In the Republican primary, Rauner has had little to worry about when it comes to opposition. The governor’s only competition is Jeanne Ives, a Representative for the Illinois State House. Ives is running her campaign on pension and tax reform, term limits for lawmakers, government transparency, and school choice. Ives seems unfazed by Rauner’s pockets and could end up giving the unpopular governor a close race.

While Pritzker and Rauner’s pockets have discouraged some, they have empowered others. Democratic candidate Daniel Biss has based the foundation of his campaign on getting big money out of politics. His campaign’s slogan being “We need elections, not auctions.” Biss’ platform has garnered the attention of numerous campaign finance reform activists. In November, Biss received the endorsement of campaign finance reform activist and former presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig. “We must end big money politics. And Daniel’s fight here is the same fight everywhere — a fight by the people for a government that represents more than the billionaires,” Lessig said of Biss in his endorsement speech. The Biss campaign also received the endorsement of Dick Simpson, author of Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality. 

While Biss has been gaining momentum as of late, the question still remains of whether or not he can compete with Pritzker. The sheer amount of money Pritzker himself has put into his campaign dwarfs the amount raised by the Biss campaign and will make it much harder for Biss to get his message out. With a gubernatorial race likely to be the most expensive in Illinois history, will Daniel Biss’ campaign finance reform platform triumph, or will it be swept away in a wave of money?

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