Illinois’ price for power

When I was growing up in New Lenox, Illinois, I lived down the street from our mayor. In the scope of the national political machine, being the mayor of the village of New Lenox could be considered insignificant. But to a four-year-old boy, it was like having the president as a neighbor. I wanted nothing more than to become just like him when I grew up. And as I aged, I set my sights higher. Governor, senator, president: I wanted to change the world. But I realized that I could never accomplish my dream, and it wasn’t because of my worldview, work ethic or public demeanor. I realized the one thing that separated me from holding these offices was money.

The total spent in the recent Illinois gubernatorial election neared $250 million. J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic candidate and born-billionaire, spent $171 million of his own money on his pursuit of the position. Gov. Bruce Rauner, a wealthy man himself, spent close to $70 million of his own money. Both candidates ran on platforms of fighting for the people, but how are we supposed to support these men who claim altruistic intent, yet, rather than donating this exorbitant amount of money to the people they claim to fight for, spend it to boost their own egos and acquire more visible power? The short answer is that we shouldn’t.

Wealthy candidates’ decision to put a high price tag on their elections forces the hands of their opponents as well. Governor Rauner spent just over $60 million in 2014 to win the seat for the first time. With Pritzker flexing is wallet, however, Rauner funneled another $30 million of spending into his campaign this year to eclipse $90 million, and it still wasn’t enough. An individual does have a right to spend however much they want, but the ramifications of their actions affect more than just their own campaign.

Dean Thompson served as the campaign manager for Rep. Peter Roskam’s re-election bid in Illinois’ 6th District.

“One thing I can tell you, from eight congressional campaigns, a gubernatorial and a presidential: money doesn’t win elections.  People and ideas win elections,” Thompson said.

I would have to agree with Thompson that Pritzker won through his platform, but his platform would have never been known without his financial power to invade the screen of every voter’s phone, laptop and television for the past year. Pritzker’s opponents attempted to highlight the billionaire’s lack of similarities to the every man he claims to be. Between removing the toilets in his Gold Coast mansion to evade income taxes to recordings of racist conversations with disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich, Pritzker’s antics were nearly drowned out of the political conversation due to the massive sums he spent on his own campaign.

Matt Marton | AP

Aside from Pritzker’s controversial actions, it should be brought up that for all of the aspects of Illinois he claimed to want to fix, his $171 million could have done a lot of good for the state if simply donated. Is it fair to suggest Pritzker should donate $171 million? No. It would great if he did, but not doing so takes nothing away from his character. Alternatively, what matters here is that the system we have in place values the process of becoming the fixer more than the process of actually fixing.

Toby Orisarayi, a political science major, aspires to run for office eventually. “I was actually supposed to be an intern for Pritzker, but then I found out that he is extremely rich so I figured that he wouldn’t even need me to intern for him,” Orisarayi said. He doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with the massive self-funding the two candidates provided to the race, however, believing that limiting the amount of their own money they could use would infringe on their rights. “To each their own.”

To be clear, Pritzker did nothing wrong or illegal by funding his own campaign. Most of the concern with current campaign financing is the fear of corruption through corporate donors. The fear is that if certain entities donate too much, they will force the candidate to appease their whims. It’s far more terrifying for the candidates to be solely responsible for appeasing themselves. Pritzker’s platform aligned with the Democrats in Illinois. There is no reason to doubt he will be willing to follow through on his promises made about social issues, but tax reform and campaign finance reform is where things get tricky. Pritzker is responsible to himself, a billionaire, about how he restructures the system that currently helps billionaires.

We like to believe that our elected officials are just reflections of us. We say we’re tired of the elites controlling everything, but Nick Amendola, a senior at DePaul, wonders if we’re ready for the alternative.

“I think a candidate has to have credentials and experience and knowledge. I wouldn’t imagine someone with all of that finding themselves to be poor,” said Amendola. “I mean, yes, someone could be raised in poverty and have ambitions to run for something but how credible could that individual be?”

Thompson believes there is some hypocrisy in the movement for campaign finance reform. “It’s ironic that the people who say money is the problem and we shouldn’t let people make donations to their preferred candidates by and large have very negative things to say about the 45th President of the United States,” said Thompson. “And yet, by the data, he’s been the figure, more than any other in recent times, who relied on just speaking to the masses and spreading his message through free platforms like Twitter and cable news and mega rallies.”

Ultimately, yes, a candidate must still have decent ideas as a foundation their funds and there have been examples of candidates winning elections with more median net worth. Though in major races, like Illinois’ gubernatorial election, personal wealth or the ability to quickly acquire it still appears to be a prerequisite.