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Money influences pension votes, candidates in GOP

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

By now, it should be self evident that Bruce Rauner has locked up pretty much all the big money in the Republican primary race for governor. Last week’s pension reform vote provides even more evidence.

Rauner has built a fortress of high-dollar campaign contributors. Ron Gidwitz, known for being the gateway to big time cash from the wealthy, has fully joined in, as has the richest man in Illinois, Ken Griffin.

Gidwitz was with Sen. Kirk Dillard in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, but Gidwitz and Rauner have sucked up so many dollars – including more than $250,000 from campaign fundraising committee member Griffin and lots more from Griffin’s friends – that Dillard hasn’t been able to raise any cash from rich people he’s known for years, even decades. Dillard’s financial predicament has become so desperate that he voted against last week’s pension reform bill in the obvious hope that he can now raise some dough from public employee unions.

Dillard’s vote is even more bizarre when you realize that he voted against a union-negotiated pension bill back in May and twice voted in favor of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension reform bill in May and June. He really had no choice last week. It was sink or swim time. Whether a gubernatorial candidate can win a 2014 Republican primary with union backing remains to be seen, but it appears highly unlikely from this vantage point. If Dillard does win any public worker union endorsements, Rauner can then whack him with a “pay to play” charge and beat him over the head for taking “big government union boss” dollars.

For three solid years, state Rep. Tom Cross insisted to his caucus that pension reform absolutely had to be passed, even though the majority of his members sided with the unions. That split eventually became so bitterly intense that Cross could no longer effectively continue as House Republican Leader.

Yet, when push came to shove, Cross voted “No.”

He could’ve gone for the easy newspaper endorsements and the “regular” Statehouse money, but Cross knows that his best fundraising year as House GOP Leader came in 2010 – when Ken Griffin and his independently wealthy wife Ann contributed huge dollars to his cause and helped him raise even more money from their super-rich friends.

A “Yes” vote could’ve meant no Griffin cash for Cross (Griffin penned a recent Chicago Tribune op-ed slamming the pension bill with Rauner campaign talking points). So, Cross went with the money.

Griffin told the Tribune last year that the ultra wealthy “actually have an insufficient influence” on politics. And now, Griffin, Rauner and the rest of the ultra-wealthy are making a big play to take over the party and then the governor’s mansion. Everybody else had better pay attention.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter

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