Most expensive governor race in U.S. history?

Illinois candidates raised the most, but still had cash on hand at the end

State Sen. Sam McCann’s top contribution in the governor’s race came from a group that claims to support Democrats. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

State Sen. Sam McCann’s top contribution in the governor’s race came from a group that claims to support Democrats. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

If it wasn’t the most expensive race for governor in U.S. history, it was close to it.

The dust is just beginning to settle after last week’s midterm election, and final documents on fundraising and spending are still being sorted out, but the Illinois governor’s race was probably the most well-financed in the nation’s history, even if it didn’t top the $280 million spent on the 2010 California governor’s race.

According to the Illinois Sunshine website, run by Reform for Illinois using data from the state Board of Elections, the four gubernatorial candidates raised more than $285 million.

At the end — or at least in campaign disclosures made through Tuesday, a week after the election — Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker still had $40 million on hand, Gov. Bruce Rauner $7.6 million, and state Sen. Sam McCann $3.4 million, so by simple math they came in spending under $280 million, but not by much.

Having vastly outspent his opponent four years ago, Gov. Pat Quinn, Rauner was clearly irked that Pritzker was now turning the tables on him, and it shows in the fundraising.

According to Illinois Sunshine, Pritzker raised $176 million, the lion’s share, $172 million, coming out of his own pocket, and all but about $42 million of it contributed this year. Rauner, meanwhile, has contributed a total of $95 million to his campaign fund, Citizens for Rauner, over the years, but — get this — not a penny after 2016.

Rauner raised barely over $4 million for his re-election this year. McCann raised more, $5 million, although to be fair it should be pointed out that $3.7 million of that came after Sept. 30 from the Fight Back Fund, dedicated to “support Democratic candidates in state and local elections.”

Libertarian Party candidate Grayson “Kash” Jackson, by contrast, never got to $25,000, and he made a point of that frugality during his one and only televised debate performance alongside McCann with Pritzker and Rauner.

What’s the lesson to be learned? Citizens, politicians, and pundits will be mulling that for a while. Democrats made gains across the state by being, for a change, better funded than their Republican opponents, and in down-ballot races most of that came from small, personal contributions from a general public inspired, at least in part, by opposition to President Trump. But there’s no denying Pritzker’s $172 million investment in his own campaign very much held sway in the governor’s race, especially when Rauner decided not to call his raise in the high-stakes game.