A newly formed group of self-described “center-left” Democrats claims to have secured $20 million in commitments to spend on state legislative races here.
But that $20 million apparently isn’t meant to counter Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s infamous $20 million campaign stash, which he says will be used to support his allies and punish his enemies. Indeed, the Democratic group appears to be promoting what could be seen as a somewhat softer, neo-liberal version of Raunerism.
Illinoisans for Growth and Opportunity is not a traditional Democratic group, as its name more than implies. The press release announcing the group’s launch blasted Democratic leadership, including former Gov. Pat Quinn and both legislative leaders, for passing a budget last year “that they knew would create a financial crisis.”
The group also bemoans the lack of manufacturing employment, the state’s horrible credit rating and its poor business climate ratings without specifically endorsing any real-world fixes like workers’ compensation reform.
The ILGO blames all these problems on unspecified “special interests” which have had “far too much influence with legislative majorities in setting public policy.”
In interviews last week, the leaders of the group refused to specify which Democratic-allied special interests they were talking about, but they did point to the ultra-liberal Chicago Teachers Union as an organization which takes hard-line stances without regard to “reality.”
The idea, apparently, is to create a well-funded alternate path for Democrats who may fear upsetting organized labor and other traditional party allies this year. The group doesn’t appear to be an overtly Rauner-esque “anti-union” organization, but they are definitely not intending to echo organized labor’s positions, claiming that they’re “not bound by the constructs” of the party and its traditional allies.
Further evidence of this is that the new organization appears mainly designed to buttress Democrats who find themselves in tough primary races. “We’re not very interested in the balance of power as it relates to Democrats versus Republicans,” said an official with the organization. The hottest Democratic primaries lately have been fought between activist union-allied candidates and business-backed candidates.
So far, though, specifics are almost completely absent. Usually it’s pretty easy to assess where a Statehouse organization stands. They have priority lists and even lists of legislation which they support and oppose. No such list currently exists for Illinoisans for Growth and Opportunity.
The group’s leaders say they will be “communicating very clearly” and “working with the leaders and caucuses” throughout the spring session. But so far, at least, they aren’t taking a stance on things like taxation. “We’re not advocating that you raise taxes, and we’re not advocating that you cut spending,” said another group leader. Instead, they say they want a “holistic” approach. They are clearly interested in protecting some state spending, claiming that there are many state programs which are “important” for Illinoisans.
Despite their harsh talk about their party’s legislative leadership, they claim that they’ve reached out to the caucus leaders to assure them that “we have their backs.”
And while they did identify a handful of board members, financing will likely be done mostly in the dark. The group has formed a not-for-profit 501(c)(4) group, which will allow contributors to remain anonymous. That money and other public contributions will then be funneled to an independent expenditure committee.
The general consensus under the Dome after news first broke about ILGO is that it’s probably little more than a Rauner front organization.
The three publicly identified board members have contributed relatively few actual campaign dollars in the past, and one of them is married to a prominent Rauner supporter. That’s leading some to believe that Rauner’s super-wealthy pals (many of whom have also contributed big bucks to Mayor Emanuel, who has ties to the firm which is handling the new organization’s activities) will be the real force behind the ILGO’s “dark money” fund.
The ILGO’s press release, which was so critical of the state’s Democratic leadership it purports to support, had as its main thrust fixing this fiscal year’s budget problem, which is currently the biggest Statehouse topic by far. Quite a few Senate Democrats said that it looked like the press release was aimed directly at them because they weren’t fully cooperating with Gov. Rauner on the budget fix.
It’s difficult to argue with any of that.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.