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The rise of the billionaire governors

Friday, Oct 20, 2017

* From the Economist

Though the primary is not until next March, the election to be the next governor of Illinois is already on track to become the most expensive in state political history, overtaking the $280m fight for the governorship of California in 2010 between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, a billionaire businesswoman. Election spending in Illinois has increased by 741% this year compared with the same period in the previous election, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, an NGO. The candidates burned through $15.6m in the past three months, led by J.B. Pritzker, a self-funded billionaire businessman running for the Democrats, who splashed out $11.1m, mostly on television advertising, followed by Bruce Rauner, the self-funding Republican incumbent, who spent $2.6m, even though he has not confirmed yet that he is running for re-election. Mr Rauner and Mr Pritzker have so far raised just under $100m between them. In the sort of twist that seems straight from a plot by Armando Iannucci, the lion’s share ($50m) was given by Governor Rauner to a group called Citizens for Rauner. Mr Pritzker gave his campaign a modest $28m.

Though an extreme example, Illinois is no outlier. More and more very wealthy men are running for and winning office as state governors. Tennessee’s Bill Haslam, West Virginia’s Jim Justice, Florida’s Rick Scott, Kentucky’s Matt Bevin, Minnesota’s Mark Dayton, Nebraska’s Peter Ricketts, Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, North Dakota’s Doug Burgum and Arizona’s Doug Ducey all have a net worth measured in the tens, and in some cases hundreds, of millions. The richest is Mr Haslam, a multibillionaire whose father founded Pilot Flying J, a chain of petrol stations and convenience stores. Mr Justice, a coal billionaire, is the richest man in the state he governs.

America has had wealthy governors before—think of Nelson Rockefeller and Franklin Roosevelt, both of whom governed New York. But their proliferation is new. In part this simply reflects increasing income disparity in the country, says John Geer of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Candidates with little money are disadvantaged by having to spend more time raising funds from donors to whom they are then beholden. One of President Donald Trump’s most popular campaign lines—that he was too rich to be bought by special interests—works in state elections too. Given the opacity of money in politics, perhaps voters find self-funding campaigns to be refreshingly transparent.

Whatever the reason, the result is that in many states there is now a wealth primary before the electoral primary, says Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois. Big money tends not only to limit the field, but to catapult candidates who have never run for anything before to the front of the race. Florida’s Rick Scott would probably not have won his Republican primary against Bill McCollum, a candidate with a proven track record, had he not spent $50m of his own dosh. The same is true of Mr Rauner, another political neophyte, who defeated Pat Quinn, the incumbent Democratic governor, and personally contributed $28m to the $65.3m, or $36 a vote, that his campaign cost.

* Speaking of which, here’s Greg Hinz

The chairman of the Democratic Governors Association is swinging through town on a fundraising trip today, and though he did some predictable bashing of incumbent GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, he also stuck up for J.B. Pritzker, who’s pulling ahead but has yet to lock down the race for the Democratic nomination.

The comment came from Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee when I asked him if, given the divide in the Democratic Party between progressive insurgents and establishment types, he has any concern that the party nominee here well could turn out to be the wealthy Mr. Pritzker.

“We’re not discriminating,” Inslee cracked, adding that he’s just finishing reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another rich pol, who led his party to decades of domination of Washington politics.
Roosevelt “did some great work for working people,” Inslee said, referring to things such as union rights, Social Security, and the first national minimum wage. “I don’t think that (the money) will be a problem.”

Inslee stressed that his group will remain neutral in the Democratic primary, preferring to hold its fire—and cash—for the general election against Rauner. Inslee promised the DGA will be here a lot. “Our nominee will be very strongly supported here,” he said. “This is going to be a very high-priority race for us.”

* WSIL TV

[John Jackson, professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute] says the extraordinary amounts of money now required to run for national and statewide offices will prevent most people from ever seeking election.

“You’ve got to be a billionaire or a mega millionaire or at least have a lot of friends who are,” Jackson said.

He says the correlation between spending and winning is huge, and that the amount needed to get the name recognition required for a competitive run is going up.

“If you can’t spend at a certain rate, even if you don’t spend the most, you can’t be in the ballgame,” he said. […]

“Normal people who don’t have access to tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars can’t play in this game,” he said.

* Related…

* Pritzker touts infrastructure investments, bashes Rauner during Decatur stop: But Pritzker said he is nothing like other notable wealthy businessmen-turned-politicians like Rauner and President Donald Trump, pointing to his past work in the public sector and years of pushing for “progressive values.” “I’ve spent a lifetime standing up for progressive Democratic values, expanding educational opportunities for our youngest children, making sure we are feeding School breakfast to low income kids, creating new economy jobs, more than 7,000 of them, in a small business non-profit incubator,” Pritzker said. “Those are all part of a set of progressive values I’ve fought for my whole life. That’s a lot different, and I’m nothing like Bruce Rauner or Donald Trump.”

* VIDEO: Is Spending on Statewide Elections Going Too Far?

* How New Wealth, Few Rules Fuel Family-Office Boom: They team up in club-like investor groups or strike out solo to buy other private, often family-owned, businesses. By going direct, rather than through a private-equity fund, a family can exert tighter control over the money, cherry pick investments, minimize fees and even give the kids a board seat to learn the trade. Billionaire brothers Tony and J.B. Pritzker, whose family money came from running Hyatt Hotels Corp. and industrial conglomerate Marmon Holdings, in 2015 bought a manufacturer of coffee sleeves for companies including Starbucks Corp.

* 14 Illinois Billionaires Make Forbes 400 List For 2017

* Can Commercial Real Estate Development Lead To A Turnaround For Chicago’s Most Violent Neighborhood?: That is starting to turn around: Crawford said a handful of small businesses are moving into Austin, including insurance firms and restaurants. Ruby’s, the popular soul food restaurant in neighboring Garfield Park, is opening a storefront in the Soul City Corridor. Crawford said the most exciting development along the corridor is the opening of a campaign office for gubernatorial candidate and hotelier J.B. Pritzker.

* Tio Hardiman: The Next Governor of Illinois?: “I’m really the last great hope for my people, African-American people,” said Hardiman. “The reason why I talk about the Black community is because everyone wants the Black vote. The Black vote is a hustle. Black death is a hustle. The governorship has been dominated by White men since the inception of the state of Illinois and it’s time to change the narrative.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments
  1. - paddyrollingstone - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 2:06 pm:

    “I’m really the last great hope for my people, African-American people,”

    There are really no words.


  2. - Roman - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 2:09 pm:

    “Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, an NGO”…”petrol stations”…”$50 million of his own dosh.”

    Man, I love the Economist. I read it with a English accent in my head. Makes me feel smart.


  3. - The Captain - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 2:15 pm:

    Being the rich unelected neophyte in the race is nice and they occasionally win but they don’t have a great track record here. Consider …

    Oberweis (’02 US Senate) - did not win the nomination
    Oberweis (’04 US Senate) - did not win the nomination
    McKenna (’04 US Senate) - did not win the nomination
    Ryan (’04 US Senate) - won the nomination but did not make it to the general election
    Hull (’04 US Senate) - did not win the nomination
    Oberweis (’06 Governor) - did not win the nomination
    Gidwitz (’06 Governor) - did not win the nomination
    McKenna (’10 Governor) - did not win the nomination
    Rauner (’14 Governor) - won

    I’m probably forgetting a few but you get the drift.


  4. - Grand Avenue - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 2:17 pm:

    I’m surprised Tio hasn’t dropped out of the Governor’s race to run against Preckwinkle.

    So far, the only person circulating for County Board Prez is Bob Fioretti.


  5. - getafteritguy - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 2:22 pm:

    Vote for Biss.


  6. - 47th Ward - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 2:29 pm:

    ===the rich unelected neophyte===

    You’re not wrong, but just remember, those guys were millionaires. J.B. is a billionaire. Big difference.

    Also, J.B. is not a neophyte. He’s been in the trenches and has been politically involved at the highest level of politics for thirty years. This isn’t a vanity campaign and he’s no political neophyte.

    And I also think the Citizens United decision was one of the worst things to happen to the U.S. in my lifetime.


  7. - wordslinger - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 2:44 pm:

    –“We’re not discriminating,” Inslee cracked, adding that he’s just finishing reading a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another rich pol, who led his party to decades of domination of Washington politics.–

    FDR was old money, and old New Amsterdam Dutch, but he wasn’t in Pritzker/Rauner territory when it came to wealth. Estimates are he died worth about $60 million in today’s dollars.

    Still, he was a proud traitor to his class.


  8. - IllinoisBoi - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 3:14 pm:

    George Washington was one of the wealthiest men in North America in his time … and so it goes.


  9. - Anonymous - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 3:15 pm:

    When someone says “my people”, I think, “what makes you think their YOUR people?” Arrogant messiah complex.


  10. - Anonymous - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 3:29 pm:

    RICH…. Peter Fitz spent 10m in the rep primary in 1998 and then more in general to beat Braun.


  11. - Anonymous - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 4:15 pm:

    My sense is Pritzker isn’t exciting many people. Great stats from the Captain’s post.


  12. - Rich Miller - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 4:19 pm:

    ===My sense is Pritzker isn’t===

    Not a subscriber I see.


  13. - Anon0091 - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 4:27 pm:

    47 is exactly right. It’s not the money but the candidate. JB ain’t a babe in the political woods like most of the disastrous self-funders like Al Hofeld and Blair Hull. He’s not some weird guy that people only listen to because of the dough. There’s real substance there.


  14. - Anon0091 - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 4:28 pm:

    “Not a subscriber I see.”

    Very funny Rich Miller! Very funny.


  15. - ILDemVoter - Friday, Oct 20, 17 @ 4:38 pm:

    “One of President Donald Trump’s most popular campaign lines—that he was too rich to be bought by special interests”
    This statement works both ways; I want my Elected to be accountable to the environment, Constitution, and Womens Right to Choose. Self funding minimizes nthe voice of the voter.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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