Candidates for three state legislative districts in the Effingham area have raised nearly half a million dollars — with Republicans raising the bulk of that money.
The Effingham Daily News dug into campaign disclosures of donors and fundraising filed on behalf of candidates in the three races: Districts 107 and 109 in the State House of Representatives and State Senate District 55.
The three races have raised $474,473.40 during this campaign, with Republican candidates raising 72.1% of that cash, according to Illinois Sunshine, a nonpartisan database based on campaign disclosures filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. For context, this is less than some individual races, like the race for the 25th State Senate district, in which the two candidates have raised $1.57 million.
The donations for local races are mostly individual donors of under $1,000. Every candidate except for Cynthia Given and John Spencer report funds from corporations or political action committees (which can be used by corporations or special interest groups to manage political donations). Even those two report support from county-level Democratic committees.
The District 107 race pits Democrat David Seiler, a history teacher, against incumbent Republican Blaine Wilhour. Seiler’s largest donations come from unions.
“That’s partly because I’m a member,” he said in an interview.
Seiler said unions, in addition to supporting Democrats generally, tend to support fellow union members even more. His donors include the Illinois Federation of Teachers, a PAC that donates to support the interests of carpenters unions, and SUAAction, which advocates on behalf of people who receive annuities and pensions from the state university system, according to disclosures from the ISBE.
Wilhour has donations from a variety of corporate and industrial interests. These include donations from Willie Wilson, a conservative politician and preacher from Chicago, and several financial transfers from corporate entities and PACs. These include Ameren Illinois, J&J Ventures and CHEMPAC, which represents a council of chemical companies, including 3M, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever among smaller local chemical businesses as well.
Wilhour says these donations shouldn’t alarm voters or make them think his policies are influenced by his donors.
“Look at my record and what I stand for,” he said in an interview. “It has no influence on my voting.”
Wilhour joined Darren Baily, the state representative from the 109th District who is seeking the 55th District State Senate seat, and Chris Miller, of the 110th House district, to form a PAC to support their candidacies. The PAC has taken money in from other candidates and donations from individuals (such as Willie Wilson, Rural King founder Alex Melvin, and several small donors) as well as local corporations and banks.
Restore Illinois PAC spent money in the primary elections on things such as advertising, robocalls and events.
The night before the primary, the PAC transferred $11,600 to Republican Adam Niemerg’s campaign for the 109th House District and has since only spent money on hiring a videographer.
The organization is “ultimately trying to get Illinois back on track,” according to Wilhour. Restore Illinois PAC is dedicated to “promote and elect conservative Republican candidates in east-central Illinois,” according to its paperwork on file with ISBE.
There is no similar cross-candidate coalition to support the Democratic candidates in this year’s races. Seiler said that he is proud, however, that the various county-level committees have supported Democratic candidates. He has received campaign donations from the Democrat Committees in Effingham, Marion, Clinton, Bond and Fayette counties. This is usually in the form of donations of a few hundred dollars. In the race for the 109th House district and 55th Senate district, the Democratic candidates have received similar support from county-level committees in their areas.
In the race for State Senate District 55, Democrat Cynthia Given takes a strong stance on campaign finance.
“I don’t accept corporate PAC donations,” she said in an interview. “I feel like the voter should be the stakeholder in an election, period.”
Her opponent, Republican Darren Bailey, has taken donations from a PAC representing Marathon Oil’s interests, Knapp Oil and a PAC that represents AT&T’s interests, in addition to the funds he’s received from Restore Illinois PAC. A lifelong farmer, he’s also received donations from various farming-related organizations and advocacy groups.
John Spencer, who is the Democratic nominee for House District 109, says that fundraising has been particularly challenging for him because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a cancer survivor and an older man, he is at higher risk of the disease. He’s had to reduce in-person events.
Given has also cut in-person events out of a sense of precaution. Given did begin hosting donation matching days to compensate for this change in strategy.
The campaign for Illinois 15th Congressional district is a race between Mary Miller, a Republican, and Erika Weaver, a Democrat. Miller’s candidate committee has raised $465,128 since announcing her campaign. Her top donors are all PACs tied to the Republican party or special interests. These include the House Freedom Fund, WinRed, Susan B. Anthony List, and a PAC representing Koch Industries. Miller’s committee has spent $372,043 on this campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Weaver has raised $31,813. Her top donors, much like her state-level counterparts, are county-level Democratic Committees from around the area. This includes Marion, Coles, Moultrie, Lawrence, Jasper, Fayette, Effingham and Crawford counties. Every other donation to Weaver’s campaign has come from individuals. Weaver has spent $4,977 on her campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data. That’s just 1.3% of what her Republican opponent has spent.
Neither Niemerg, the Republican running to represent House District 109, nor Bailey, who is running to represent Senate District 55, could be reached for this story.
The election is Nov. 3, although early voting is already underway. You can register to vote online at ova.elections.il.gov until Oct. 18. Grace period registration is available up to and on election day.
Voters who want to know more about who is donating to local campaigns can search the publicly available disclosures from every candidate running for state office at the ISBE website. They can also visit illinoissunshine.org, an online database based on ISBE data maintained by the nonpartisan advocacy group Reform for Illinois.
The EDN’s election profiles are online at effinghamdailynews.com/news/2020_election/