Millions flowing from outside PACs into Illinois local congressional campaigns

Belleville News-DemocratOctober 5, 2012 

If Jason Plummer, the GOP nominee for the 12th Congressional District seat, wins next month, he might have gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson to thank.

Adelson, the billionaire owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino and many other resort venues, and his wife, Miriam, are the primary nonparty donors for campaign ads.

Last month, the Adelsons' YG -- for Young Guns -- Action Fund spent $557,750 to buy media attack ads against Plummer's Democratic opponent, Bill Enyart, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Adelson's superPAC, which provided the most money of any of the independent groups buying ads in the 12th and 13th District races, exemplifies the "new normal" of fundraising since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns as long as they don't coordinate with the candidates.

All told, Republican and conservative groups have spent almost $1.2 million on attack ads against Enyart. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $503,350 in attack ads on Enyart's behalf against Plummer, plus another $335,170 to support Enyart, according to the FEC reports.

Despite the large amounts of outside money being spent in the 12th District, "we have not seen an impact on the race," said Philip Lasseigne, a Plummer spokesman. "Meeting with the voters and articulating a clear message of how we will help the residents of Southern Illinois has the biggest impact on voters."

Jason Bresler, Enyart's campaign manager, said the outside funding against Enyart is being financed by "shady special interest groups funded by Wall Street billionaires and Washington insiders" who are "trying to smear Bill's military record and distort his positions. ..." These new rules of the fundraising game "certainly give a louder voice to the very wealthy than they had before," said Viveca Novak, the communications director of the Center for Responsive Politics, of Washington, D.C.

Independent political groups have so far spent $161 million on political races, with $115 million of that amount being spent on presidential primaries and the general election, according to a recent FEC report.

The remainder, about $46 million, is being spent on close congressional races "because they are less expensive races overall," Novak said. "So if you go and drop a few hundred thousand in the Illinois 12 (race), you can really make an impression, you can help define the candidate

"Outside groups have spent a total of almost $3.8 million on media campaigns to either support or attack the Republican and Democratic candidates in the 12 and 13th District races, FEC records show.

The influx of so much outside money is not surprising since there are only a few races nationwide for open House seats -- as is the case with the 12th and 13th Districts -- where either major party could prevail, said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

The big problem, however, with so much money being spent by outside groups on local races is that candidates have no control over the attack ads' messages, Redfield said.

"These are surrogate battles between big money on both sides and big power on both sides," he said. "The stakes are control of congress."As a result, "The big money that's coming in couldn't care less about how well whoever gets elected works for the district," Redfield said. "What they want is the R's and D's to control the House."

In the 13th District race, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $805,793 on attack ads against GOP nominee Rodney Davis of Taylorville. Republican and conservative groups have counter-attacked with even more financial ammunition, almost $1.25 million, in attack ads aimed at Democratic nominee Dr. David Gill of Bloomington.

The biggest contributor in the 13th District is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $500,000 on media buys against Gill, the FEC records show.

The National Republican Congressional Committee spent another $330,000 against Gill, while the American Action Network, a conservative nonprofit group, spent about $325,000, FEC records show."Both Rodney Davis and Jason Plummer are very strong candidates that are running very aggressive ground game campaigns," said Katie Prill, an NRCC spokeswoman.

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