The fundraising gulf over the DGA can be attributed in part to RGA support from a number of high-profile billionaires and millionaires, including hedge fund bosses Paul Singer and Kenneth Griffin, and shipping supply company owner Richard Uihlein. The largest donor to the RGA in 2016, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated more than the top six donors to the DGA combined.
Many longtime donors gave big to the RGA amid the 2014 election bid of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner — including Rauner-backer Griffin — and could be gearing up for his next battle in 2018. The RGA had donated $8.25 million to his first bid compared with the $4.96 million the DGA gave to then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign.
Last year Rauner himself donated $250,000 to the RGA, his largest donation ever to the group and the largest donation by far from a politician in 2016.
“It’s a way of saying, if you’re going to play, you better bring your wallet,” said Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Redfield said some Illinois Democrats are aiming to recruit a wealthy opponent for Rauner. Developer Chris Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, and venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, are said to be considering bids.
Without the same level of support from multi-millionaires, the DGA depends on money from national labor organizations. Last year many of the large donations came from labor unions, including the Teamsters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Business is an important base, and many donated to both governors’ associations. Centene Corporation, a healthcare company that provides services through Medicare, Medicaid and state health insurance exchanges, was the largest single donor to the DGA and the fifth largest donor to the RGA.
AstraZeneca, Verizon, Pfizer, Wal-Mart and tobacco giant Philip Morris’ parent company Altria were among those who donated six-figure sums to both sides.
Many of the nation’s governors will gather in Washington this week for both the National Governors Association and the RGA’s annual winter meeting.
“The RGA has built and will continue to build a strong foundation of resources to defend our incumbents and elect a new class of Republican governors in 2018,” said Thompson.