Campaign intelligence: The money behind today’s Illinois primaries; Koch brothers in the ad spotlight


Another Tuesday, another primary day: Using our host of tools and trackers, Sunlight is keeping an eye on where the political money is going. Beginning with Tuesday’s contests in Illinois, here’s what caught our eye this week:

Illinoisans decide gubernatorial, congressional primaries

Polls opened at 6 a.m. CT Tuesday, where a full slate of congressional primaries and a competitive battle for the Republican gubernatorial nominee will be decided. The House race with the most eyeballs on it will likely be the 13th Congressional District, where first term Republican Rep. Rodney Davis — who eked out a one-point victory in 2012 — faces Miss America-turned-lawyer Erika Harold in the GOP primary. Davis has a sizable fundraising advantage over Harold ($1.1 million to $140,000 at the most recent filing) and is expected to win his party’s nomination. But he’ll face another competitive race in the fall. Two Democrats are vying for the opportunity to knock Davis off in November: Former Illinois circuit Judge Ann Callis and physics professor George Collins. The DCCC has already spent a little under $22,000 on ads attacking Davis. The incumbent has had a bit of a fundraising boost lately, however: In the past week alone he has raised just under $40,000.

That money looks like pocket change however, compared to the sums being thrown around in the gubernatorial election, where incumbent Pat Quinn, a Democrat, will likely face the winner of a crowded Republican field. Chicago Tribune-endorsed businessman Bruce Rauner has poured more than $6 million of his own money into a GOP primary where he faces two state senators and the state treasurer for the Republican nomination.

Though Quinn has irked some powerful state unions, the Illinois campaign finance portal shows the incumbent is not hurting for friends with deep pockets: On March 13, venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, a member of the wealthy and contentious Chicago clan that also includes President Barack Obama’s longtime adviser (and now Commerce Secretary) Penny Pritzker, gave $240,000 to the Democrat’s campaign.

No one likes outside money, everyone wants it

Americans for Prosperity — a dark money group backed in part by Charles and David Koch —  dings Sen. Mark Udall D-Colo., for his support of Obamacare. “Obamacare doesn’t work… Tell Senator Udall to stop thinking about politics and start thinking about people,” an actress tells viewers. The Denver Post reports the group recently purchased $1 million worth of TV ad time in the Denver and Colorado Springs markets. You can find some of the group’s recent Denver buys on Political Ad Sleuth. Republican District Attorney Ken Buck dropped out of the race to make room for two-term GOP congressman Cory Gardner, whose congressional campaign had nearly $900,000 at the start of the new year. Udall, a one-term senator who also spent 10 years in the House, ended 2014 with a little more than $4.7 million in his campaign’s bank account.

AFP launched a nearly identical “Obamacare doesn’t work” ad in Louisiana, where Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy is the GOP favorite to unseat Sen. Mary Landrieu, rated one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in this election cycle.

Although both AFP ads clearly target a candidate in an election year, the nonprofit identifies them as “non-candidate issue ads” on contracts available in the political ad files of Denver stations — meaning they won’t be reported to the Federal Election Commission as a normal political ad buy would. This common tactic makes it more difficult for the public to track campaign season-advertisements and adds unnecessary haziness to political ad disclosure. Exacerbating the problem: A review of TV stations’ political ad files by Sunlight Reporting reveals that many television stations allow advertisers to evade the most basic disclosure requirements in federal law.

Democrats are circling the wagons around Landrieu: Cassidy faces a barrage of attack ads from Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC that would very much like to see Democrats keep the Senate. Senate Majority has already dropped more than $200,000 on the bayou battle, most of which went to the production and placement of TV ads blasting the Koch brothers as “out of state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect Bill Cassidy.”

Koching up a campaign strategy

Like the Koch brothers’ attacks on Democrats over Obamacare, the Democrats’ attacks on Republicans’ ties to the conservative siblings are going national. Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group, took the unusual move of intervening in Michigan’s GOP primary to portray one of the Republican candidates for Senate, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, as a tool of the Koch brothers. Hmm. Could this have anything to do with the fact that the GOP establishment appears to be anointing Land (New Jersey Chris Christie will headline a fundraiser for her Wednesday) as the most likely to win the seat that retiring Sen. Carl Levin has occupied since 1978?

In addition, as Alex Roarty of National Journal has noted, Democrats are trying to make an issue of the Koch brothers in the Alaska Senate race, in press releases and in congressional speeches. Check out Capitol Words to see just how much airtime the brothers Koch are getting on the floors of the House and Senate these days.

Campaign finance shenanigans in Florida?

Though Floridians just saw the end of a bitter special election battle in the Tampa Bay area, the lull in the TV ad wars won’t last for long. Another special election is afoot, this time in the state’s 19th Congressional District to replace Rep. Trey Radel, R, who was charged with cocaine possession in November. Values Are Vital, a new super PAC financed by a Las Vegas lawyer and a Miami retiree, is playing favorites in the Republican primaries, backing Paige Kreegel, a medical doctor and state representative. In TV ads the committee lambasts Kreegel’s primary opponents Lizbeth Benaquisto and Curt Clawson for being too liberal. The primary is April 22.

In a voice message left for Curt Clawson, and later shared with the Tampa Bay Times, Kreegel tipped off his opponent that attack ads were on there way. “I think Curt’s a decent guy and I hate to see this crap go on,” he told the newspaper. But Kreegel’s prior knowledge of the ad campaign raises questions about potentially illegal coordination between the candidate and the outside group. Kreegel told reporters he learned of the coming ad via an FEC filing, an electronic time stamp shows this information was not publicly available until 5:08 p.m. It is not clear from the initial reporting when Kreegel made the call.

Something old, something new

Remember Scott Brown? New Hampshire Democrats do and they don’t appreciate the former Massachusetts senator’s aspirations to return to Capitol Hill via their state. The party released an Internet ad using Brown’s own words to remind voters that of his Bay State roots. Brown has yet to make his campaign official, though he has formed an exploratory committee, Politico reports, and recently gave up his commentator role on Fox News.

Elsewhere, the Republican National Committee unveils a new look: highlighting diversity in its new “Create Your American Dream” spot, one of a series that focuses on a demographically diverse group of individuals praising the party. The national party committee has spent more than $83 million this cycle, while the DNC has disbursed just under $70 million. Want to get your hands dirty and spread a little light on the political system during this Sunshine Week? Head over to Real-Time to download these committees’ bulk contribution and disbursement files and explore where the national party money is flowing. Or adopt a market on Political Ad Sleuth and enter data from TV ad buys.