Incumbents Retain Fund-Raising Advantage, Records Show

Article excerpt

Like so many candidates trying to unseat an incumbent from the Illinois Legislature, David Ahola's biggest obstacle isn't polls, the press or controversy.

It's one simple fact: campaign money. For every campaign dollar Ahola received in the last three months, the incumbent legislator he is trying to beat got $23.

Among the 15 Illinois legislative seats in the Metro East area that will be on the ballot Nov. 5, incumbents seeking re-election raised a total of $975,000 in the past three months. That's more than twice as much as the total raised by their challengers in the same period, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis of campaign records. Two-to-1 disparities between incumbents and challengers were common, the analysis found, and several races exceeded 20-to-1 funding gaps. Not a single race in the region showed a challenger with equal or higher campaign income than the sitting legislator had during the period examined. The analysis also found that most of the financial boon to the incumbents came not from their own constituents but from far-flung party officials and partisan interests. Ahola, an Edwardsville Democrat, is challenging incumbent state Sen. Frank Watson, R-Greenville, in the 55th Senate district. Watson received almost $70,000 in donations and services for his re-election campaign in the past three months, according to records; Ahola received just over $3,000. "We estimate we'll spend about $10,000 the whole campaign," says Wayne Sinnock, campaign manager for Ahola. As for their chances: "Realistically, Frank is a man who raises huge amounts of money, who has been in Springfield for 20 years." Watson says he probably will spend $60,000 to $70,000 on the campaign, plus the costs of hosting fund-raisers. He acknowledged there is a vicious cycle in politics: Incumbency guarantees money, which can help guarantee continued incumbency. "It's a fact; I don't know that it's necessarily a problem . . . as much as some of us dislike the money aspect," Watson said. "I agree there should be some way to give non-incumbents the potential to win." Campaign records for the months of July, August and September show that 26 candidates for 15 Metro East-area seats raised a total of $1.54 million in those three months alone - about $102,000 per seat, for a job that pays $45,669 annually. Among the campaign receipts of other contested races in the area during that three-month period: In the 116th House district, Rep. Terry Deering, D-DuBois, garnered $33,727 in donations to fight off Republican challenger John Coats - whose war chest brought in just over $2,400 to fight back. In the 98th House district, incumbent Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Benld, has received almost twice the contributions of Republican challenger Rodney Davis, $49,941 vs. $27,360. In the 110th House district, incumbent Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Troy, received $39,415, about 2 1/2 times more than his Democratic challenger, Troy Mayor Velda Armes, who received $14,805. …