In an effort to beef up his weaker war chest, the Republican candidate in what is likely to be one of the nation’s most-watched congressional races is pulling out one of the party’s big guns:
On Monday, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner will be in Colona for a fundraiser for Bobby Schilling.
Schilling, from Colona, is seeking to regain the 17th congressional district seat he lost in 2012 to Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline.
As of June 30, the most recent federal campaign reporting deadline, Bustos had out-raised Schilling by more than $1 million.
Between Jan. 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, Bustos raised about $1.9 million, with about $1.4 million still available at the end of June.
During that same period, Schilling raised about $650,000 and still had about $500,000 at the end of June.
The difference in fundraising is significant but “not the end of the world,” said Russ Choma, a spokesman for the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan political and election research organization.
In addition to the money both candidates have raised, there’s a contrast in the sources of their donations. About 51.6 percent of Bustos’ contributions have come from individuals. For Schilling, that percentage is about 64 percent.
The vast majority of the remaining money has come from political action committees.
The Center for Responsive Politics looks at how much candidates have raised from within their district by looking at the ZIP codes listed for the itemized individual contributions, which includes individuals’ contributions of more than $200.
For Bustos, 42 percent of her contributions can be analyzed for location. For Schilling, it’s 50 percent.
Among those larger campaign contributions, Bustos has raised 17 percent from within the district while Schilling has raised 62 percent.
Those figures are noteworthy, Choma said, but must come with “the big caveat that it’s only half the money.”
Information on individuals contributing less than $200 doesn’t have to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission, but the total is listed on campaign finance reports.
Schilling is critical of the amount Bustos has raised from outside the 17th District.
“When 83 percent of your money comes from outside of the district, who do you really represent?” he said in a phone interview Thursday.
Scot Schraufnagel, an associate professor and director of graduate studies for Northern Illinois University’s Department of Political Science, said in today’s political world, out-of-district or out-of-state money has become the norm.
In the past 10 to 15 years, there’s been an increase in PACs and other “Hill committees,” such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the Republican National Committee, Schraufnagel said.
Before the rise of those groups, Schraufnagel said, candidates could use out-of-state money as a negative for their opponent, but they can’t as much today.
Jeremy Jansen, Bustos’ campaign manager, would not address the specifics of out-of-district donations and their role in her campaign.
“Our campaign is well aware that corporate SuperPacs are on the side of Bobby Schilling, and we can’t take anything for granted,” Jansen said in an emailed statement. “So we’ll continue to work hard and raise the resources we need to communicate Cheri’s record of fighting for middle-class values to voters this fall.”
Contributions by PACs make up about 30 percent of Schilling’s campaign funds; they account for about 48 percent of Bustos’.
The fact that Boehner is making his way to the district for Schilling, just as he has for other Illinois Republicans this week, doesn’t mean the Republican Party thinks Schilling is in trouble in this campaign, Choma said.
“It shows that the national party is aware of [the race] and is taking it seriously,” he said.
Congress is on its summer recess, and while most members are back home in their districts to see family or campaign, Boehner, who Choma called the Republican Party’s best fundraiser, is helping fellow Republicans in competitive races.
“It’s the way this whole sort of leadership system works now,” Choma said. “The members support the leader, and the leader supports the members. It probably says something about Schilling, that he’s been a good soldier for Boehner.”
Party leaders who are secure in their elections will spend time helping others in their party to raise funds and might even funnel some of their own campaign money to those competitive races, Schraufnagel said.
“From my perspective, this is unfortunate behavior,” he said. “It fosters party loyalty, to a fault. Now these rank-and-file members cater to the leaders.”
During the campaign, the party leaders won’t dictate talking points or campaign platforms, he said, because they know what it means to be a Democrat or Republican can differ from state to state or even district to district.
“Once they get to D.C. now, they will dictate their voting behavior,” Schraufnagel said. “They use carrots and sticks. ... All in all, leaders are more likely to use carrots than sticks once they get to D.C.”
Schilling said Boehner’s visit will give some residents in the district the chance to meet a powerful member of Congress.
“I think overall it’s going to be great and get the base motivated,” Schilling said. “We’re not afraid to bring him to the district, and Cheri Bustos doesn’t want [U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi here.”
Leading up to Boehner’s arrival, the Bustos campaign has been issuing a series of news releases under the theme “10 Ways in 10 Days,” pointing out ways they see Boehner and Schilling having the wrong priorities for the state’s middle class.
The news release for Friday said: “John Boehner and Bobby Schilling’s anti-middle-class agenda may please the Tea Party and the Koch brothers, but it is devastating to middle-class Illinois families.
“While Cheri Bustos is focused on creating jobs, protecting Medicare and Social Security and fighting for working families, Boehner and Schilling have sought to end the Medicare guarantee, fought to protect tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and stand opposed to equal pay for equal work and livable wages.”
The campaign trail
Schilling said he wasn’t concerned about the fundraising difference.
“She’s going to need more money to defend her prior voting records,” he said. “She has yet to pass any bill in the House.”
The race will come down to comparing the two candidates and their voting records, Schilling said, and he expects the Bustos campaign to have negative ads against him.
In an emailed statement, Jansen predicted it would be a tough election and said Bustos’ camp wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“Voter turnout will be an important factor, and that is why we are grateful to have so many volunteers speaking with voters in their community about the importance of this election and spreading Cheri’s message of fighting for the middle class,” he said.
In 2012, the winning House candidates spent about $1.5 million, Choma said, and it’s expected to be a little higher this year. Bustos currently has an advantage, but it’s still relatively early and a lot could change before Nov. 4, he said.
And although the election still is about 3 months away, Schraufnagel said that campaign cash and federal filings might predict the result.
“There are instances in every election cycle where the candidate that does not have the most money is still able to win,” Schraufnagel said.
“But the best predictor of who will win a House race is money.”