PI Original Micah Maidenberg Thursday October 7th, 2010, 11:38am

The Dems And The Statewide Ticket

The Democratic Party of Illinois, controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan, spends its funds primarily on candidates campaigning for seats in the state House of Representatives. Should it take a broader approach?

With the elections drawing ever closer, many Democratic candidates on the ballot this November are aligning their individual efforts with those of the Illinois Democratic Coordinated Campaign (IDCC). Those organizing with IDCC include Gov. Pat Quinn, the party's candidates for comptroller and treasurer, and multiple Democrats who are either running for re-election to Congress or are challenging Republican incumbents in Washington. Several Democrats seeking slots in the General Assembly are on board, as well.

Support provided by IDCC is largely tactical, focused on boosting party members' enthusiasm and turnout before November 2 and on Election Day itself. According to Sean Tenner, who's managing State Rep. David Miller's bid for comptroller, the campaign is working with IDCC on an absentee voter push, on voter targeting, and on setting up rallies. There's a weekly conference call and information sharing, he said. A spokeswoman for Robin Kelly's campaign for treasurer expressed a similar sentiment via e-mail, writing that Kelly would get out the vote next month with the organization. IDCC has set up phone banks and runs a well-developed website.

This slate of activities makes IDCC the go-to organization for the party's candidates in a tough election year. The Democratic Party of Illinois, chaired by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), is largely eclipsed by its efforts. In recent years, the state party has been criticized for failing to vet Scott Lee Cohen when he ran as a Democrat for lieutenant governor, for failing to support Democrats running for federal office, and for failing the simple task of keeping its website up to date. (It's since been fixed). Steve Brown, Madigan's spokesman, defended the state party's efforts this election cycle. He said the party is actually working with IDCC on the early voter effort and helping candidates identify where they can raise money for their campaigns.

The IDCC is not providing direct financial support to candidates. The state party will likely do so, but history suggests those funds will flow to House candidates. Meanwhile, some of the statewide candidates trail badly in fundraising. Robin Kelly's political fund listed about $144,000 in cash on hand as of June 30, the end of the last campaign finance disclosure period. In contrast, her opponent, Republican Dan Rutherford, had more than a cool $1 million. Miller had nearly $160,000 in cash; GOP comptroller candidate Judy Barr Topinka had nearly $438,000. At the end of the disclosure period, meanwhile, the state party had nearly $1.5 million available, and is collecting more ahead of November 2.

Despite that pool of money, candidates aren't necessarily asking the state party for financial resources; Tenner, from Miller's comptroller bid, said their operation had not asked the Madigan for funds and said he had no complaints about the party's efforts. And for statewide offices like comptroller and treasurer, this stinginess is in keeping with recent historical trends. A review of campaign disclosure reports shows that Madigan's apparatus provided no transfers of funds to Alexi Giannoulias' previously successful bid for treasurer nor during Dan Hynes' last campaign for comptroller, though it did reimburse the Hynes campaign for hundreds of expenditures in 2002.

Much of the state party's expenditures in the latter half of 2006 -- the last time treasurer, comptroller, and governor were up before the voters -- were focused on helping candidates seeking slots in the Madigan-controlled House of Representatives. There was party money for polling and printing and other costs for House Democratic campaigns, for example. In terms of individual candidates, the big transfers of money from the party four years ago went to House members only, with the exception of lame duck Cook County President Todd Stroger. In the first half of this year, the state party continues to focus on the House: money has gone out for software for Rep. Dennis Ahern's campaign, Daniel Biss, and others, as well as payroll reimbursements and insurance costs for workers helping other House candidates. But nothing directly has been appropriated for the statewide races.

Through June 30 of this year, the state Republican Party hadn't dumped any money into races for treasurer or comptroller either. (Given that their candidates are leading Kelly and Miller in the money race, this isn't surprising.) Whether or not the state Democratic Party is missing an opportunity by not playing a bigger role for the party's candidates outside of the House is a question Democrats may want to debate -- especially during election cycles when so-called "downticket" races tend to get overshadowed.

It's a complicated issue. If Madigan were to use the state party's pile of money to recruit and support Democratic candidates outside of the House, Rich Miller noted on his blog yesterday that the press and Republican opponents could portray the aspiring pols as "trained [Michael J. Madigan] puppets." In a close race, that could be the kiss of death. Perhaps an elected official with a singular focus on a particular branch of government should not head a state party that in theory should help candidates from village board all the way up to the U.S. Senate. With Madigan on board at the state party for another four-year term, it's a bit of moot point. For now, at least.

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"With Madigan on board at the state party for another four-year term, it's a bit of moot point. For now, at least."

The agony continues...

Notice how nobody even posts comments on Progress Illinois? The stories are spot on. It's a nice looking site. There are real Democrats that live in this state. Where are they? Out campaigning? Out to lunch? Out of luck? Looking for work out of state?

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