DECATUR — If you’ve been watching TV lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Gov. Bruce Rauner on screen with a roll of duct tape and a message of blame for Democrats.
That’s because more than $95,115 worth of TV ads have been purchased in television markets that include the Twin City area — part of a statewide ad campaign that Rauner says is not connected to his 2018 gubernatorial bid.
The ads represent a fraction of more than $1 million worth of TV time that has been purchased by an arm of the Republican Governors Association, the Chicago Sun-Times reported March 30. Records show the organization, called State Solutions, purchased 15- and 30-second ads featuring Rauner in the Chicago, Champaign-Springfield, Rockford, Quad-Cities and Peoria-Bloomington markets.
In the ads, Rauner brandishes a roll of duct tape and likens it to Democrats’ solutions for the state budget impasse. “Higher taxes, more spending, no real reforms,” he said. “After decades of ignoring problems, it’s time someone fixes them.”
He then touts his oft-repeated plan to freeze property taxes, cap spending, create jobs and set term limits for state politicians. Rauner and Democrats have been at odds for 21 months, with each side blaming the other for their inability to pass a budget. Last week, the Illinois House voted to tap $817 million to temporarily relieve struggling universities and human service agencies.
The ads began airing March 28 and are slated to continue at least through this week, according to Federal Communications Commission documents that describe the ads as “non-candidate advertising” focusing on the issue of “Illinois governmental and fiscal reform,” meaning the expenditures are not required to be reported to the state election board.
The ads direct viewers to FixIllinois.com.
Rauner, who took office in 2015, says the TV spots are not campaign ads.
“Really, we’re just trying to communicate with the people of Illinois about what’s going on and what we’re trying to work to change to make things better so we have a better future in Illinois,” he said last week during a stop in Decatur.
Voters aren’t likely to make that distinction, said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. They’re tired of campaign ads and political messaging from both sides, and she thinks they’re ready for the finger-pointing in Springfield to stop.
“It’s really important that both sides come to the table ready to negotiate and compromise,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like that’s the attitude at the moment.”
After an exhausting presidential election, many residents are apt to tune out political ads as soon as they appear, added Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
“The distinction between governing and campaigning seems to get blurrier and blurrier and this is another indication of that,” he said.
But in addition to reiterating his message and appealing to his base of supporters, Redfield said the ads deliver an important message to Democrats considering their 2018 prospects.
“Part of it has nothing to do with the reaction of the average citizen,” Redfield said. “He’s doing it because he can do it and they’re trying to show that they’re in a position of strength vis-a-vis the Democrats.”
Several Democrats already have announced they plan to seek the party’s nomination in the March gubernatorial primary, including state Sen. Daniel Biss, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, billionaire J.B. Pritzker and businessman Chris Kennedy, the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy.
Some lawmakers are puzzled by the advertisements.
State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said his main focus was on working to get a budget passed before the end of May; he doesn't think the ads will have much effect in the Capitol.
“(Rauner) has got the money to run the ads, if he wants to run them, he can,” Mitchell said. “He has a perspective, and he’s trying to get that point of view out.”
Along with a Tweet on Monday criticizing the advertisement, state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said on Friday that the ads struck him as being out of touch with the issues facing Illinois.
“It’s as if he went to Mars to film these things because they come from a completely different reality than what we are facing every single day in Springfield in order to come to a compromise on a budget,” said Manar.
“It contributes to the toxic, hyper-partisan atmosphere that has been injected into Springfield since Bruce Rauner has taken office,” he added. “He just cannot help himself. He ought to shut off the television, get rid of the phoney baloney, and just govern.”