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Quinn's modest $1 million campaign fund 'an indication of weakness,' analyst says

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SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn has more than $1 million in his political fund, but it's not the convincing statement a sitting governor might want to make to potential rivals heading into a re-election bid.

The $1.06 million the governor this week reported in his Taxpayers for Quinn campaign fund at the end of 2012 is a third of what one of his potential Democratic opponents has in her political fund.

It's also less than half of what any of his three predecessors - Jim Edgar, George Ryan or Rod Blagojevich -- had in their campaign warchests at similar points in their political trajectories.

The governor's camp attributed the sparsity of available campaign funds to contribution limits the governor helped impose and his preoccupation with a litany of serious state issues, starting with finding a solution to Illinois $95 billion pension crisis.

"With two prior governors in prison for fundraising abuses, the people of Illinois want their governor focused on cleaning up state government-- not 'cleaning up' on campaign contributions," the Quinn campaign said in a prepared statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Gov. Quinn's top priority is restoring integrity to government after years of corruption. He is spending his time governing and getting things done for the people of Illinois," his campaign said.

The campaign also noted Quinn has a history of being a respectable fundraiser, having raised $25 million in the 2010 campaign cycle when he narrowly defeated Republican Bill Brady.

Yet, his $1.06 million puts him far behind at least one potential Democratic rival in 2014, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who with $3.6 million on hand hasn't said if she intends to run for governor after four terms as the state's chief law enforcement officeholder.

Another possible Democratic rival, former U.S. Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff William Daley, hasn't raised any campaign cash yet, though he reiterated interest this week in possibly challenging Quinn in 2014.

Despite Quinn's explanations, one long-time campaign-finance researcher said the governor's modest campaign kitty demonstrates his unpopularity and makes him vulnerable to challenges from within his own party's ranks.

"It's a chicken-and-egg sort of thing. He's not popular. He's not perceived as being powerful. So he's not raising as much money," said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois at Springfield political scientist and director of the Sunshine Project.

"When you have trouble raising money, people view that as an indication of weakness and vulnerability. If you can't raise money, it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy," Redfield said. "The fact there aren't people tripping over each other to give him money is an indication of weakness, that he may be vulnerable in the primary."

Admittedly, Quinn is hamstrung by contribution caps that limit his ability to harvest big checks from donors to $5,300 per individual, $10,500 for corporations or labor unions and $52,600 for political action committees and candidate committees. Those caps, which have applied to him since January 1, 2011, remain in place until March of next year.

By contrast, much of Madigan's political wealth was amassed pre-contribution limits.

Yet, part of the governor's struggles raising campaign funds since 2010 is the result of
self-inflicted wounds from his battles with labor unions that helped elect him.

AFSCME Council 31, for example, last contributed to Quinn in October 2010 as part of $575,000 it contributed to his first governor's election. The union hasn't donated a dime since and is fighting Quinn on his efforts to reel in pensions and negate pay raises he promised. The union lost in its bid to block Quinn from closing dozens of state facilities.

The Illinois Education Association gave Quinn more than $743,000 in the run-up to his 2010 election but only $1,000 since then. It too is battling with Quinn over pension reform that threatens current and retired downstate and suburban teachers.

While no earlier governors have operated under the restrictions of contribution caps, none of his predecessors dating back to Edgar had as little as Quinn in their political funds at mid-term.

Edgar at the end of 1992, two years into his first term, had $2.37 million in cash on hand. Today, adjusted for inflation, that would amount to nearly $3.9 million. In December 1996, Edgar reported having $2.5 million in campaign cash, the equivalent today of almost $3.7 million.

Ryan's campaign fund had $2.24 million in cash in December 2000 during the mid-point of his one term, a time when he still hadn't ruled out possibly seeking re-election despite the clouds of a looming federal indictment in his not-so-distant future.

Even Blagojevich, after his arrest and shortly before being impeached and driven out of office by state lawmakers, reported having $2.24 million in cash on hand in his campaign fund at the end of 2008.

Four years earlier, mid-way into his first term, Blagojevich's campaign fund reported having a staggering $10.39 million in the bank. That didn't completely scare away a challenge, but it helped enable him to amass 71 percent of the primary vote in 2010 and obliterate former Chicago Ald. Edwin Eisendrath.

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