Campaign finances show how McHenry County statehouse districts are evolving politically

Democrats are putting more money and resources into the races for three Illinois statehouse seats currently held by Republicans, campaign finance disclosures show.

Candidates from both parties said in interviews they believe the electorate in the House districts that stretch into southeast McHenry County has changed in the past couple of election cycles, both demographically and in terms of how residents view the importance of their representatives’ political affiliations.

Those factors together, the candidates said, have led Democratic fundraising organizations and left-leaning donors to more aggressively contest Republicans in House districts 52, 65 and 66 in this election than in the recent past.

This shift is not reflected in the county’s two northern districts, also currently held by Republicans and where Republicans hold financial edges against their opponents.

A stark example of the fundraising advantage Democrats have in those contests is in District 65 – which stretches from Huntley in the north down through Hampshire, Starks, Pingree Grove, South Elgin, Valley View, St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia in the south – between Democratic candidate Martha Paschke and incumbent state Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva.

Campaign disclosures for the quarter ending Sept. 30 show Paschke’s campaign raised more than $570,000 in donations and received an additional $333,000 in in-kind donations, much of that through mailings, advertising and other campaigning sponsored by the Democratic Majority and the Democratic Party of Illinois. Since the quarterly disclosure was made, Paschke also has reported several donations exceeding $5,000, including from Teamsters Volunteers in Politics.

Ugaste’s campaign, meanwhile, took in $39,500 and received $95,216 in in-kind donations.

“My hope is that if voters pay attention to that, they will see that I am the one looking out for their best interests, and am not worried about whether I am appeasing Speaker [Mike] Madigan,” Ugaste said.

He said he thinks the financial difference shows how Madigan has been “[amassing] a war chest” over the past four years that he’s been able use to “to pick off suburban seats.”

Ugaste said he is interested to see if conservative political funding organizations respond to losing a seat or to tighter margins of Republican victories by evening up the financial playing field by pouring more resources into local campaigns. Ugaste also said he was outspent significantly in the last election he won.

Paschke pushed back on the notion that her financial support is being driven by Madigan, pointing to the more than 200 individual donors she’s received support from. She said these donors are people who know her from her work in the community.

In the 2018 election cycle, the Democratic candidate Richard Johnson’s campaign took in nearly $500,000 less than Paschke during the quarter ending Sept. 30 that year, while the in-kind donations between each of the Democratic candidates were nearly the same, state campaign finance records show.

She said she thinks the comparative boost in funding for Paschke’s campaign this year exemplifies a growth in optimism by Democratic-leaning organizations that the seat can be won by the party, Paschke said.

“We know that people coming here are coming with different sets of values than maybe existed before and that’s a part of this change,” Paschke said. “Beyond that, there is a bigger shift happening with people’s thinking even in the Republican Party. I’ve spoken, with a number of people who are Republicans who are happy to vote for me.”

The same fundraising dynamic, with Democrats holding a substantial edge, is playing out in the District 66 and District 52 races.

Like Ugaste, District 66 incumbent Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, attributed the fundraising advantage held this quarter by his opponent, Suzanne Ness, D-Island Lake, to contributions from Democratic Party entities headed by Madigan. Skillicorn also has declined to seek contributions from political organizations and special interests, he said.

Ness’ campaign in the most recent quarterly report disclosed more than $22,000 in individual contributions along with more than $600,000 in transfers from political organizations. It also spent more than $411,000.

Skillicorn’s campaign took in less than $2,000 in individual contributions, received no transfers from political groups and he loaned the campaign $10,000 during the quarter, state records show. Skillicorn also has self-funded his campaign with thousands in loans since 2016, and it spent just $150 during the recent three-month period.

“I don’t have the money to buy fancy TV ads, but nobody believes those misleading ads anyway,” Skillicorn said.

But Ness took issue with a Skillicorn campaigning strategy in holding in-person rallies – including one in support of President Donald Trump in Algonquin earlier this month sponsored by a group called No Mask Illinois – that the Democratic challenger said she feels has been irresponsible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The separate treatments of the virus by her fully digital campaign and Skillicorn’s, Ness said, opened the door to her effort receiving more financial backing during the pandemic.

“COVID[-19] has led to this resonance in messaging that Democrats are doing better at,” Ness said.

District 66 runs from Crystal Lake and Lakewood in the north through Lake in the Hills, Huntley and Algonquin into Kane County, where it also includes Gilberts, Sleepy Hollow and West Dundee.

In the District 52 race for the open seat being vacated by David McSweeney, the Democrat Marci Suelzer took in more than $15,000 in contributions and more than $167,000 in transfers from political groups during the quarter, dwarfing the $21,970 received by Republican Martin McLaughlin, who started the quarter with almost $29,000 more available than Suelzer had in July.

“I think that one of the reasons why I have been endorsed by the many organizations that have endorsed me and why the Democratic Party of Illinois has been picking up the tab for a lot of my mailings is because the district has changed very dramatically,” Suelzer said.

McLaughlin did not return requests for an interview.

Longtime Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager, a Democrat running for the District 63 seat, also is largely self-funding his campaign with personal loans but is at a far lesser financial disadvantage than Skillicorn is in his race.

The District 63 incumbent, Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, reported more than $20,000 in individual campaign contributions for the quarter, more than $84,600 in transfers from political organizations and $49,040 in in-kind contributions, and has also disclosed more than a dozen donations since the quarter ended of more than $1,000, including one as much as $21,000.

Attempts to reach Reick for an interview were unsuccessful.

Sager has loaned his campaign $45,000, and during the last quarter, it received just more than $2,000 in individual contributions, along with $38,500 in transfers from political groups, including $25,000 from the JB for Governor organization.

“I want people to know that I’m an independent thinker, that money should not be any type of impetus for voting one way or another,” Sager said. “When you are willing to invest your own money, when you are willing to take your own risk, just like business people have to do every day of the year, especially right now, it shows people that you are an independent thinker and that you don’t have any requirements, that you’re unbiased and will consider issues upon their merit.”

Much less campaign funding is entering the District 64 race between Republican incumbent Tom Weber and Democratic challenger Leslie Armstrong-McLeod. Weber’s campaign took in more than $10,000 in individual contributions, $8,100 in transfers from political allies and $15,345 in in-kind contributions last quarter, whereas Armstrong-McLeod saw just more than $500 total flow to her campaign. The Democrat’s campaign spent $1,222 last quarter, while Weber’s spent more than $8,100.

While speaking about not just his district but the political leanings of McHenry County as a whole, Sager attributed the rise in Democratic fundraising efforts in its southeastern portions to a waning interest in extreme partisanship.

“I think people are moving to the place where they’re not quite so concerned frankly whether candidates have an R behind their name or a D behind their name. That’s a change,” Sager said. “I do think the Democratic Party from a state level sees this evolution taking place, and now McHenry County is not such an absolute Republican vote. And so they’re going to look at that and say, ‘Can we change this?’ I think that’s the reason they have put a lot of money into this campaign.”


via Lake County Journal

October 29, 2020 at 12:03PM

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