In the 12th congressional district race, two candidates on opposite sides of the political spectrum seem to agree on one thing: They're up against well-funded primary opponents.
Republican candidate Preston Nelson, of Benton, and Democratic candidate David Bequette, of Columbia, have raised less than $10,000 combined. The probable nominees in the 12th district race, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, a Democrat, each have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their campaigns.
So far in this election cycle, Bost has raised more than $961,000; of that, $542,000 has come from political action committees, according to Federal Elections Commission records.
Kelly has gotten $123,000 from PACs out of the $672,000 he's raised this cycle, FEC records say.
Bequette has raised $9,700 in his effort, all from individuals. Nelson hasn't reported any contributions.
Kelly, during a recent candidate forum, criticized the role of dark money in politics.
“I think at the heart of so many of the challenges that we face, whether it’s in the context of women’s issues or any issue that we’re dealing with, is the flood of money into our political system," Kelly said. "It is something I have believed since before I was running for Congress. It is something that is eating at the heart of our democracy.
"The unlimited flood of dark money, foreign money, places that we’re not even sure where it’s coming from, it has corrupted our democratic process, and to me, it is the number one threat that we talked about here tonight.”
Nelson responded during the forum and said Kelly has been proficient at raising money for his campaign.
“I oppose this because I think in this 12th district primary, you have a clear option ... That’s between two people who are largely unfunded and are actively speaking against the establishment, and two people are well funded by the establishment," Nelson said.
Bequette in an email to the News-Democrat, said he pledged not to take any PAC money, special interest money or corporate donations, even before Kelly jumped into the race.
“If we are going to expect reform in campaign finance regulations or we are going to speak out against Citizens United or contributions from the NRA, then it would be hypocritical to take funding from any PAC or special interest whether we believe their efforts are positive or not,” Bequette said. “There is only one voice that should be represented in the electoral and political process, and that is the voter. I am critical of anyone that says they want 'dirty money' out of politics or wants an end to Citizens United if they are in fact taking thousands from PACs and special interest."
During an interview, Kelly said fundraising takes up a lot of time.
“The amount of time I have had to spend away from my family because of how our campaign finance system works – making calls, going to events – has just strengthened my resolve to make sure the very first thing I do when I get elected is to propose a constitutional amendment to get the money out of politics," Kelly said. "This experience has made me believe that even more."
Kelly said the money he has received from PACs is different from the dark money he wants out of politics. He has received money from local elected officials campaign committees, union groups and the organization End Citizens United, among others.
However, 95 percent of contributors are individuals, and 80 percent have given less than $200, his campaign said.
“If you look at the fundraising we’re doing, it’s with organizations that have issues that are important to people in Southern Illinois, but beyond those organizations, the overwhelming amount of the money we have raised have come from small individual donors, individual people," Kelly said. "Our type of fundraising contrasts to who I think will be my opponent in the fall, is very focused on individuals, and people that are concerned about how the country is being torn apart by the current political system.
"That’s very different by the large PACs that are probably going to pour tons of money in to try to impact the outcome of this election and influence people here in Southern Illinois."
The 12th district race is expected to be a toss-up in the fall between probable nominees Kelly and Bost.
Bost said he expects the election spending to be between $2.5 million and $3 million. He said he has to reach out to PACs because there aren't many donors in the 12th district who can donate the maximum of $2,700 – that he has a lot of donors who can contribute only $25 or $50.
During this cycle, Bost has received money from campaign committees for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, along with the U.S. Steel Corporation PAC, United Mineworkers, American Soybean Association, the Koch Industries PAC and the Boeing PAC, among others.
“Should I not support the United Mineworkers? Because that’s a political action committee that gives," Bost said. "How about our steelworkers? They’re a political action committee. How about the State Chamber of Commerce, which is your local business?"
"The most important thing to remember is, these races are expensive, and to do that, you have raise money. (When) receiving political action money, usually those political action groups are tied somewhere to your district. As a member of Congress, yes I listen and get information from them, but if anything ever is bad for my district, I’ll vote against them as quick as ever.”