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Facing conservative backlash, Rauner puts nearly $4.5 million into state GOP for 'Madigan retirement plan'

Chicago Tribune

Thursday, October 12, 2017  |  Article  |  Rick Pearson

Rauner, Bruce Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

Facing ongoing criticism from conservatives, Gov. Bruce Rauner this week has put $4.45 million into the state GOP that he controls in what was branded as an effort to topple Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan next year.

 

“Four decades in power is long enough, and with Gov. Rauner’s support, Illinois Republicans can ensure 2018 is Mike Madigan’s last year as speaker,” said Rauner’s hand-picked state GOP chairman, Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider.

 

“Gov. Rauner has shown time and time again that he is committed to revitalizing the Republican Party in the state of Illinois. Thanks to Gov. Rauner’s unprecedented commitment, we are now closer than ever to retiring Speaker Mike Madigan once and for all,” Schneider said in a statement.

 

Rauner’s most recent cash infusion to the Illinois Republican Party comes amid division within the GOP after the governor signed legislation expanding taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid and state employee health insurance.

 

With some rank-and-file social conservatives looking to find a credible primary challenger to Rauner and vowing not to support his re-election, the big-dollar donation provided a reminder of the power and sway his money has held over Illinois Republicans since he was nominated for governor in March 2014. It also could serve as an attempt to get the disparate GOP factions to rally around Rauner and his opposition to Madigan.

 

State GOP officials said the initiative branded as the “2018 Madigan Retirement Plan” will target Democratic lawmakers supportive of Madigan and also provide “unprecedented support to local GOP organizations by providing innovative grassroots tools, enhanced digital and data integration and targeted support for local Republican candidates in an effort to defeat Democrats at every level.”

 

Madigan has been a focal point of Republican campaigns across Illinois, most notably in legislative election contests last year in which tens of millions of dollars were spent. Democratic candidates were routinely tied to Madigan, the nation’s longest-serving House speaker, who has held that title for 32 of the past 34 years.

 

State GOP spokesman Aaron DeGroot said the new program will “build upon the progress made” in previous election cycles, including a pickup of four House seats and two Senate seats from Democrats last year.

 

“The party has always focused on Madigan — he's brought Illinoisans from all political stripes together against him under our banner and he will do it again in 2018,” DeGroot said.

 

Since he won the Republican nomination, Rauner, wife Diana and the Citizens for Rauner campaign fund have contributed more than $35.5 million to the state GOP, campaign finance records show. The donations represent more than 71 percent of the nearly $50 million the state Republican Party has raised during that period. For 2017 alone, Rauner has given the state GOP $6.6 million, records show.

 

Still, some angry rank-and-file social conservatives have indicated they no longer will be beholden to the deep pockets of Rauner, a former private equity investor, to ensure loyalty following his recent actions.

 

Rauner’s decision to sign the abortion legislation — after pledging to GOP lawmakers in April that he would veto it — prompted widespread public anger with the governor from the Republican legislative caucuses. That’s on top of Republican opposition to his signatures on bills to prevent people in the country illegally from being detained solely because of legal status and to increase voter registration.

 

“He has his tentacles in every part of the Republican Party all across the state because he’s put so much money into it. And now he’s fractured all of those tentacles and we’re in a very bad spot right now,” state Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard, the House GOP floor leader, said before Rauner’s most recent campaign contribution.

 

“We have a really serious problem. Folks are depending upon money from Rauner. At the same time, he’s betraying our principles. So we have to have a difficult family discussion within the Republican Party: Are we going to continue to stand with a guy just because he’s writing big checks?” Breen asked. “I mean if he wasn’t writing these kind of big checks, you think anybody, anywhere in the Republican Party would still be with him for governor?”