Gov. Bruce Rauner has started doling out money from his campaign fund to fellow Republicans as the Illinois Legislature approaches what could be difficult votes on several big issues.
Rauner divided $400,000 among every Republican member of the Illinois House and Senate, spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said Saturday.
The contributions, made Monday, come with just weeks to go before the May 31 end to the spring legislative session, and with Rauner looking to his GOP allies to support his pro-business agenda in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
Lawmakers still need to agree on how to close a more than $6 billion deficit in next year’s budget. They also could vote on whether to raise taxes, overhaul public-employee pensions or approve other Rauner priorities, such as stripping influence from labor unions and reducing the cost of workers’ compensation insurance.
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Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, called the donations and their timing in such close proximity to possible votes “very unusual.” While labor unions, businesses and other groups often ramp up their contributions this time of year, a governor or other elected official doing so “really isn’t something we’ve seen,” he said.
Redfield also said it could create a perception issue for Rauner, a multimillionaire who ran for office on a promise to “shake up Springfield.”
“There are going to be a lot of people who see this as business as usual,” Redfield said.
Rauner has said his $20 million political fund helps him push his agenda and counter the influence of “special interests” such as labor unions, who are strong allies of Democrats but also have supported Republicans in Illinois.
Rauner said Thursday he’s been working with Democrats — who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature — to try to reach some compromise on his agenda and a new state budget. He said he’s been encouraging his own party to “stay strong together” amid often contentious negotiations.
“There’s a lot of pressure from all the special interest groups that don’t want to change,” he said. “We’re a super-minority. To have more influence on the process we need to stay unified.”
The donations, made Monday, included $10,000 to Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno, according to documents filed by her campaign committee with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Three other legislators who had filed disclosures as of Saturday reported receiving either $4,000 or $8,000.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton also have political funds, though they’ve historically distributed money from them closer to elections.