Tom Kacich: Oberweis, Durbin and their thick wallets

Tom Kacich: Oberweis, Durbin and their thick wallets

You'll probably find this hard to believe but the two major party contenders for U.S. Senate from Illinois are rich guys.

Which makes the remarks by one of them last week — "My opponent, I know he's worth a lot, 50 million bucks or something. And they're going to spend a lot" — kind of funny.

That's what millionaire Democrat Dick Durbin said about millionaire Jim Oberweis last week during a meeting with Champaign County Democrats.

To be clear, though, Oberweis appears to be even more rich than the rich Durbin.

But because Senate financial disclosure reports require senators and Senate candidates to reveal only a range of the value of their assets, you can't be precise about a candidate's net worth.

But a recent filing by Oberweis shows that one of his Oberweis Funds is worth between $1 million and $5 million, another is valued at between $500,000 and $1 million, and various other stocks and funds are worth between $60,000 and $415,000.

Then there's an earlier filing — no longer available at the Senate financial disclosures website — that showed that Oberweis has a number of other assets including his home in Sugar Grove, two condominiums in Florida, his dairy business, a truck barn, a store and "undeveloped land" with a total value of somewhere between $10 million and $50 million.

Earlier this year Oberweis made a cursory disclosure of his tax returns — not including presumed pages of attachments, schedules and deductions — that showed that he and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $1.3 million last year, including his $72,000 salary as an Illinois state senator.

And Durbin last month disclosed his tax returns, showing that he and his wife Loretta, who runs her own lobbying firm in Springfield, had an adjusted gross income of $277,323 last year. Like Oberweis, who is 68, Durbin, 69, and his wife also reported collecting about $43,000 in Social Security benefits.

Last year the Center for Responsive Politics estimated Durbin's wealth at between $970,749 and $1.7 million, putting him in 60th place among the 100 members of the Senate. Things don't appear to have changed to much for Durbin in the last year.

The Durbins still have two residences, a home in Springfield with an estimated value of $260,000 and a condo in Chicago valued at $290,000, plus various stocks, bank accounts and funds with a value of up to $2.15 million.

As for that claim by Durbin that Oberweis would spend a lot of money in the Senate race this fall, that may be true but it ignores the fact that Durbin has even more to spend. In his latest campaign finance statement, filed in April, Durbin disclosed that he had more than $6 million on hand. Oberweis, who had a primary opponent, had just $473,081. He also was carrying a $500,000 debt, a personal loan he had made to his campaign.

Durbin and Oberweis, of course, are hardly the first Senate candidates from Illinois to be millionaires. In fact Champaign's most renowned politician, one-term U.S. Sen. William B. McKinley, a Republican elected in 1920, was a millionaire when a millionaire really was rare. McKinley was the businessman who started the interurban railroad system that once ran through downstate Illinois and was the founder of what later became Illinois Power Co.

Waste of money?

It's astounding to think of the amount of time, energy and money wasted on the independent legislative redistricting effort in Illinois, which suffered a series of setbacks in June, and ended with Cook County Judge Mary Mikva's ruling Friday that declared the proposed constitutional amendment was unconstitutional.

In the key phrase in her decision, Mikva wrote that "a differently drafted redistricting initiative could be valid," but that the one reviewed and submitted by the so-called legal experts at the Yes for Independent Maps was not.

"We have concluded that we are not going to proceed in this election cycle," said Deborah Harrington, chairwoman of Yes for Independent Maps. "This experience will make us better prepared to win the next campaign to give voters an opportunity to have a voice in the redistricting process."

This is the second time in recent years that a redistricting initiative was unsuccessful. What made this failure most stunning was the financial backing it got — nearly $3 million at last count — and the big names who supported it. It all ended with a whimper after one judge's decision on Friday.

But Harrington said organizers have two more chances to get the issue on the ballot so that an independent redistricting commission could be used after the 2020 census.

"We still have at least two more statewide elections — in 2016 and 2018 — to bring a redistricting amendment before voters and an opportunity to revise the language to address Judge Mikva's objections," she said. "Redistricting reform elsewhere in America has been just as difficult. For example, California's recent reform required three attempts before it became reality. We remain committed to changing the status quo and enacting a redistricting process that will give Illinoisans a stronger voice in how their state is governed."

But will people keep donating money and volunteering to collect signatures if the entire effort can be overturned so easily? Incredible.

Rauner's superhot fundraising

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner on Friday cleared the $24 million mark in terms of money raised since his campaign began in March 2013.

It was less than a month ago that the Rauner campaign cracked the $20 million level.

During the same period the campaign of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has reported raising about $9.3 million, but it's very likely that Quinn is holding back on depositing his campaign contributions in the bank so that they don't have to be disclosed until closer to the end of the second quarter reporting period this week.

Davis portrayal

It's too early to say if it's the main message the Ann Callis campaign will use against U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, this fall, but we got a pretty good indication that Democrat Callis will portray Davis as part of the do-nothing, uncooperative, unlovable Congress.

"We have an opportunity to elect a congresswoman who has a history of bringing people together and getting things done, while we have a Congress that has the exact opposite record," Scott Redenbaugh, who will run Callis' Champaign County campaign, told a group of Democrats last week.

Added Marshall Cohen, who is managing the campaign of the former Madison County judge, "Rodney's been the political insider and part of the problem in his time in Washington, and Ann's going to go in and make some changes."

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

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