Gathering storm

Gathering storm

Money and politics are made for each other.

Whether the candidates are seeking the White House or even the mayor's office in Champaign, they need the resources necessary to wage a strong campaign, and that spells C-A-S-H.

That's the message The News-Gazette's Tom Kacich delivered in a recent column about four expected mayoral candidates and their plans to raise and spend money to get elected.

Champaign's municipal election won't be held until early next year — just a few months after the November election for state and federal candidates. But he who hesitates is lost, and the candidates are gearing up to spend as much as $50,000 to get elected to a job that pays $35,000 a year.

That's a lot, particularly for an election that four years ago attracted a roughly 15 percent turnout, a disgracefully low number that begs for the Legislature to put municipal, park and school board elections on the same schedule with state and federal races.

Many people bemoan the presence of money in politics, often because their favored candidates don't have as much as an opponent. But money is here to stay.

Ohio political boss Mark Hanna, who helped elect William McKinley president in 1896, spoke for many when he said, "There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can't remember the second."

More than 60 years later, legendary California Democratic politician Jesse Unruh expressed similar sentiments when he called money "the mother's milk of politics."

Cash, however, cuts both ways.

Money in the form of campaign donations, however, is an effective barometer of support. People who like certain candidates often give to them. Candidates who don't get much financial support probably aren't going to win much voter support.

Money is effective in delivering a candidate's message, helping an underdog even the playing field with a better-known incumbent.

At the same time, it's often the incumbents who have most of the money. Sometimes rich guys finance their own campaigns, effectively trying to buy an election. The good news is that elections are hard to buy.

Far more rich guys have lost than have won. There's no question that Republican Bruce Rauner used his vast wealth to capture the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but there's also no question that his message — overturning the corrupt status quo — is one that resonates with millions of Illinoisans.

Where it all goes south, however, is when money finances negative advertising. But that's not the candidates' fault. Much as they say they hate negative advertising, voters respond to it, and, as long as they do, the airwaves will be full of strong attacks by one candidate against another.

The fall election will inevitably be an attack fest. But nothing says that the mayoral candidates in Champaign are destined to go negative, no matter how much money they spend.

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