Tom Kacich: Congressional races bring millions in ads to Illinois

The presidential race in Illinois is considered a fait accompli, which is why you don't see any local television advertising by the candidates (although you can still catch national spots for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney).

But spending on congressional races — mostly by outside groups — is making up for it here.

Through Monday almost $16 million had been spent in Illinois by "independent" groups — those not affiliated with the campaign organizations of congressional candidates. Most of the money was going into five races, including the 13th District race featuring Republican Rodney Davis, Democrat Davis Gill and independent John Hartman.

Almost $2.5 million already has been spent in the 13th District contest. And that doesn't include spending by the candidates' campaign committees, which will be officially disclosed next Monday. When all the numbers are added up later this year, total spending on the congressional race undoubtedly will set a local record.

Voters in Champaign-Urbana aren't accustomed to this kind of free spending and aggressive television advertising in a congressional race. The last competitive congressional contest here was in 2000 when Republican Tim Johnson beat Democrat Mike Kelleher, 53 percent to 47 percent. In that race — and in the days before outside, independent groups got involved — a total of $2.9 million was spent. Since then, total spending in Champaign-Urbana's old 15th District never exceeded $559,000 in an election cycle.

But this year is entirely different, both in Champaign-Urbana and in many other parts of Illinois.

Only California ($25.4 million) and New York ($17 million) have seen more independent spending on congressional races, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Like Illinois, they are considered states where Obama is a lock.

Conversely, the so-called presidential election "swing states," such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado, are seeing modest spending by independent groups in congressional races. Of that group only the congressional races in Ohio have seen more than $7 million in spending. Florida, with a population of more than 18 million, has seen only $5.4 million in independent group spending.

In the 13th District most of the spending has been done by groups opposed to Gill. Four groups — the National Republican Congressional Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network and the New Prosperity Foundation — have spent more than $1.5 million on ads opposing the Democratic candidate.

The biggest spender among that group is the NRCC at $585,594. But the American Action Network, which is headed by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and is funded by groups including insurance and pharmaceutical companies, already has spent more than $325,000 in anti-Gill ads and is ready to drop another $1 million in the district between now and Election Day.

Spokeswoman Brook Hougeson said Tuesday the group "reserved the time and put down the money" for about $1,020,000 in broadcast television in the St. Louis and Champaign media markets.

Opponents of Davis, meanwhile, have spent a little more than $940,000 in the 13th District, most of that ($886,000) from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

If you are tired of the ads by the independent groups — which are almost exclusively negative, attack ads — you apparently won't get any relief in the coming weeks. The website Opensecrets.org predicts that outside groups' spending — which it calls "the campaign money story of 2012" — will soar in the last weeks of the campaign. It already totals $517 million nationwide and could reach $1 billion by Election Day.

Right to Life/Planned Parenthood endorsements. The Illinois Federation of Right to Life political action committee has endorsed Republican Rodney Davis in the 13th Congressional District. Davis is opposed by Gill and independent John Hartman, both of whom have said they are in favor of abortion rights.

Also getting the anti-abortion group's backing are U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, in the 15th District and Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, in the 16th District.

Among candidates for the Illinois Senate, the group has endorsed Republicans Chapin Rose in the 51st District, John Bambeneck in the 52nd District, Jason Barickman in the 53rd District and Dale Righter in the 55th District. All but Bambenek are unopposed in the general election; he is challenging Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign.

In Illinois House races the group is backing Republicans Bill Mitchell in the 101st District, Adam Brown in the 102nd District, Chad Hays in the 104th District and Josh Harms in the 106th District.

The group made no endorsement in the 103rd District, which includes most of Champaign-Urbana, and where incumbent Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, is being challenged by Champaign Republican Rob Meister.

Illinois Planned Parenthood also has made endorsements, and they're generally backing candidates the anti-abortion group isn't supporting: Gill in the 13th Congressional District, Frerichs in the 52nd Senate District and Jakobsson in the 103rd and Michael Langendorf in the 104th House districts. However it made no endorsement in the contested races in the 15th or 16th congressional districts.

It's also noteworthy that neither the abortion-rights nor the anti-abortion group endorsed House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, or Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. But Planned Parenthood is backing both Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

Fundraisers

— Charlie Smyth's election campaign will host a vice presidential debate-watching party at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Village Inn Pizza, 1901 S. High Cross Roads, U. Smyth is the Democratic candidate for Champaign County clerk.

Tickets are $15 per person and $25 per couple. Pizza, salad and soft drinks will be provided. The event is hosted by Kevin and Laura Sandefur.

— Gill will be the featured speaker Sunday at the Champaign County Democrat's fall dinner. Bill Houlihan, Sen. Dick Durbin's downstate Illinois director, also will speak.

The event begins with a social hour at 5 p.m. at the I-Hotel and Convention Center, 1900 S. First St., C. Tickets are $65 at the door, but $55 if paid in advance. Call 384-5371 for more information.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at tkacich@news-gazette.com.

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