In the days leading up to a high profile vote in the Illinois House on a politically charged right-to-work law, Gov. Bruce Rauner doled out campaign contributions to Republican lawmakers.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, a DeKalb-area Republican, received $8,000 from Rauner.

State Rep. Margo McDermid, R-Mokena, received a check for $4,000.

And, the duo soon carried out Rauner's wishes, voting "present" Thursday with most of their GOP colleagues on the right-to-work bill as part of a protest of tactics being employed by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The money came out of the governor's campaign fund, which he juiced with $20 million right before he took office in January.

He's been out front in talking about why he's collecting all this dough: He wants to protect his friends and punish his enemies come election time.

He says he needs it to compete with Big Labor, which has been in his crosshairs since he won the general election against Democrat Pat Quinn.

Although money has always had a place in politics, the display of campaign wealth being bandied about by Rauner is disturbing to some. Lawmakers have been murmuring about it for months. Good government groups are appalled.

"It's basically an escalation of the arms race," said David Melton, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "It's not a new concept, but it's a ramping up of the weapons involved and the threats involved."

Melton said this kind of checkbook politics only increases public cynicism, which leads to people tuning out at a time when the public really should care about the condition of state government.

"The disturbing thing about it in my view is that it puts legislators under pressure to go to one of the extremes rather than doing their job of representing their constituents and encouraging compromise," Melton said.

Status check

Despite all the cash being thrown around, things are not looking good for Rauner's rookie year agenda as we head into the final two weeks of the spring legislative session.

In a sign that a summertime stalemate may be on the horizon, the Democrat-controlled Illinois House of Representatives has been chipping away at a number of the Republican governor's high-profile initiatives.

Over the past few weeks, Madigan has led the House in sending strong signals that Rauner's plan to make worker compensation laws more business friendly is not going to move forward.

The House also spent hours knocking down Rauner's push for a more business friendly legal system. They've overruled the governor on budget cuts and signaled that his pension reform plans are doomed.

Republicans aren't enjoying the Democratic steamroller.

"Unfortunately what we are witnessing today... is nothing more than high theater. If you're coming here to Springfield to watch Branson, Illinois operate: Welcome," said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, during Thursday's debate on right-to-work.

Rauner acknowledged Thursday that he has indeed dropped some parts of his "Turnaround Agenda." He wouldn't say which pieces.

But, he said Illinois will not be able to reverse its economic fortunes without making some significant changes in laws that help draw businesses to the state.

"We need big change," Rauner said. "We're in a long slow decline. We need to grow."

Rauner has spent the past few weeks trying to keep Republican lawmakers unified against the Democrats. It has not been easy.

But Rauner reminded reporters that he's not the only one applying pressure to lawmakers.

"There's a lot of pressure from all the special interest groups that don't want to change," Rauner said.

In Rauner-speak, "special interest groups" is code for "labor unions."

Dead people

From our ongoing series called "Our Dysfunctional State Government," comes this: An audit last week found another instance in which taxpayer-funded benefits are being paid out to dead people.

According to Auditor General William Holland, the Illinois Department on Aging paid out almost $360,000 last year for services related to the Community Care Program. The problem is that most of the money went to people who were no longer living. Some of it went to people who were in jail at the time.

The findings come after other audits found millions of dollars of public aid money going to dead people.

Aging officials didn't disagree with the finding. The report notes they have implemented changes to make sure they verify whether recipients are eligible — and breathing.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage


Load comments