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The state budget is at impasse, but local lawmakers' war chests still flush

  • Dave Severin

    Dave Severin

  • Former state Sen. Gary Forby

    Former state Sen. Gary Forby

  • Dale Fowler

    Dale Fowler

  • Brandon Phelps

    Brandon Phelps

  • Associated Press file photoIllinois' backlog of unpaid bills is close to $14 billion.

    Associated Press file photoIllinois' backlog of unpaid bills is close to $14 billion.

By Kerry Lester
Daily Herald News Service
Posted on 5/31/2017, 1:00 AM

Illinois' social service safety net has been shredded due to the state's nearly two-year budget impasse. Public universities have been forced to cancel classes and cut programs. The state's backlog of unpaid bills is close to $14 billion.

Yet, politics continues as usual in Springfield, as one source of funding continues to flood in from reliable sources.

In the last six month reporting period, three southern Illinois state representatives received more than $200,000 each from the leaders of the state's Democratic and Republican parties, an analysis shows. Another took in more than $1.5 million from the same sources.

The money comes with the intent of fueling 2018 re-election bids and providing lawmakers with the incentive to toe the party line on tough votes.

"When the power is concentrated, it makes it increasingly difficult for legislators to break rank," said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

State Rep. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro received $230,000 from the Illinois GOP and House Republican Organization between Oct. 1 and March 31, records show.

State Rep. Dave Severin of Benton, meanwhile, pulled in more than $270,000 from the same sources -- $184,000 from House Republican leadership, and another $189,000 from the state GOP.

On the Senate side, Paul Schimpf of Waterloo received $169,544 from the Illinois Republican Party and another $74,760 from the Republican State Senatorial Campaign Committee, controlled by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

The situation is not exclusive to Republicans, who have been able to compete with, and often best, Democratic spending for the first time in recent years, thanks to the personal wealth of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Rauner's personal donations and those from many of his wealthy business associates have infused the state party. Last fall, he spent nearly $50 million on state races.

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood received more than $32,500 from the state Democratic Party and the Democratic House Majority Fund, records show. State Rep. Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg received a combined $50,000 from those same sources. That's on top of tens of thousands of dollars those members are getting from unions, including the Illinois Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Illinois AFL-CIO.

The lawmakers' war chests pale in comparison to those in the 2018 race for governor, where Democrat J.B. Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire, recently gave his campaign fund $7 million of his own money. Rauner put $50 million in his war chest late last year.

More than a dozen legislative races crossed the $2 million threshold last fall in total funds raised, according to tallies by the Campaign for Political Reform.

In southern Illinois, the most expensive race was between former Democratic state Rep. Gary Forby of Benton and Harrisburg Mayor Dale Fowler. Fowler, who won, raised $1.65 million, with the vast majority coming from the Illinois Republican Party and the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee. Forby, meanwhile, raised $2 million, mostly from unions and the Senate Democratic Victory Fund.

The November 2018 election is particularly important as it will determine which party is in control of the once-a-decade legislative redistricting process, which conveys a 10-year advantage in elections.

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