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Rauner donates $500K to campaign for Illinois gov.

CHICAGO (AP) — Republican Bruce Rauner has made a $500,000 donation to his campaign for Illinois governor, lifting the caps on political contributions for everyone in the 2014 race and ensuring a big-money battle for the state's top job.

The personal donation removes from the race a key piece of campaign finance reforms that lawmakers approved in the wake of the scandal involving now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And if Rauner doesn't win the four-way GOP primary, his move could end up providing an unintended fundraising advantage to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has no major challenger for the Democratic nomination.

Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf said the donation was made Wednesday. It will help pay for television ads that the wealthy businessman and political newcomer plans as he tries to increase his name recognition.

Rauner's goal is to use his wealth — and his ability to raise money from others — to drown out his primary rivals and wage a full-throttled attack on Quinn. But his opponents and political observers note the contribution and the ads are also a sign Rauner needs to spend money that the others don't feel they need to spend at this point in the campaign.

His fellow GOP candidates — state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford — all are better-known to voters because they've held public office for years.

"Clearly (the Rauner campaign) felt like they need to raise his visibility," said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. "It's necessary for him to do this. Whether it's going to work or not, it's hard to say."

State campaign finance law limits how much money may be donated to campaigns: $5,300 for individuals and $52,600 for political action committees. But it also states that if any candidate contributes more than $250,000 to his or her own race, the limits come off for all candidates vying for the office.

Rauner's latest donation brings his personal contributions to his campaign to $749,000.

His spending drew criticism from his fellow Republican candidates, who have long anticipated he would break the caps and accused him of trying to buy the office. All three candidates also have noted that Illinois voters have passed up wealthy candidates in the past in favor of those with more political experience.

"I will never have as much money as Bruce Rauner. None of the candidates will," Dillard said. "But it's votes that win elections."

Rutherford also pointed to the potential assist Rauner could be giving Quinn, calling it a "gamble" on Rauner's part that could end up hurting the eventual GOP nominee.

Under the law, the contribution limits will come off for all candidates from both parties until the March primary. If Rauner wins the GOP nomination, the caps will remain off through the general election. But if one of the three other candidates wins, the caps go back on for the November election. In the meantime, Quinn will have had four months to stockpile unlimited amounts of money — and would likely start the general election campaign with much more money in the bank than his Republican opponent.

Redfield and others note, however, that other deep-pocketed donors and organizations such as the Republican Governors Association could quickly move in to make up the difference.

Rauner's supporters say he's proven he's more than just a rich guy running for office, by traveling the state and building a ground operation that includes more than 1,000 volunteers. They also say his ability to raise money makes him the only GOP candidate who can compete financially with Quinn, who already has $3 million in his campaign fund.

As of the end of the third quarter — before his latest personal contribution — Rauner had about $594,000 in his campaign fund. Rutherford finished the quarter with about $1.2 million on hand. Brady had about $273,000, and Dillard had about $205,000.

The Legislature approved — and Quinn signed — the changes in campaign finance law after Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's vacant Illinois Senate seat. At the time, supporters said the measure sent a message that government in Illinois wasn't for sale. Critics, including the Illinois Republican Party, said the measure didn't go far enough.

The new Rauner ads feature the millionaire venture capitalist talking about how he still wears an old $18 watch and is the outsider who will shake up Springfield and turn the state's dismal finances around. He takes jabs at Quinn but doesn't mention his GOP opponents.

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