DECATUR — If you’ve been watching television lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Gov. Bruce Rauner on screen with a roll of duct tape and a message of blame for Democrats.
That’s because more than $85,125 worth of TV ads have been purchased in the television market that includes the Quad-Cities, part of a statewide ad campaign that Rauner says is unconnected to his 2018 gubernatorial hopes.
The ads represent a fraction of more than $1 million worth of TV time that has been purchased by an arm of the Republican Governors Association, the Chicago Sun-Times reported March 30.
Records show that the organization, State Solutions, purchased 15- and 30-second ads featuring Rauner in the Chicago, Champaign-Springfield, Rockford, Quad-Cities and Peoria-Bloomington markets.
In the ads, Rauner brandishes a roll of duct tape and likens it to Democrats’ solutions for the state budget impasse. “Higher taxes, more spending, no real reforms,” he said. “After decades of ignoring problems, it’s time someone fixes them.”
He then touts plans to freeze property taxes, cap spending, create jobs and set term limits for state politicians. Rauner and Democrats have been at odds for 21 months, with each side blaming the other for their inability to pass a budget that spans a full fiscal year. The Illinois House on Thursday voted to tap $817 million to temporarily relieve struggling universities and human services.
The ads began airing March 28 and are slated to continue at least through next week on WHBF, WQAD and KWQC, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission. The records were obtained Friday and may not include all purchases.
Those documents describe the ads as “non-candidate advertising” focusing on the issue of “Illinois governmental and fiscal reform,” meaning the expenditures are not required to be reported to the state’s election board.
The ads direct viewers to FixIllinois.com.
Rauner, who took office in 2015, has denied that the television spots were campaign ads. They are meant to tell Illinois residents about the regulatory and structural changes he believes are necessary for the state’s economic health, Rauner said.
“Really, we’re just trying to communicate with the people of Illinois about what’s going on and what we’re trying to work to change to make things better so we have a better future in Illinois,” he said Thursday morning while making a stop in Decatur.
Voters aren’t likely to make that distinction, said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. They’re tired of campaign ads and political messaging from both sides, and Brune believes they’re ready for the finger-pointing in Springfield to stop.
“It’s really important that both sides come to the table ready to negotiate and compromise,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like that’s the attitude at the moment.”
After an exhausting presidential election, many residents are apt to tune out political ads as soon as they appear, said Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. He said the TV spots likely won’t do much to improve Rauner’s polling numbers or shift the policy debate.
“The distinction between governing and campaigning seems to get blurrier and blurrier and this is another indication of that,” he said.
But, in addition to reiterating his message and appealing to his base of supporters, Redfield said the ads deliver an important message to Democrats considering their 2018 prospects.
“Part of it has nothing to do with the reaction of the average citizen,” Redfield said. “He’s doing it because he can do it and they’re trying to show that they’re in a position of strength vis-a-vis the Democrats.”
Several Democrats have already announced they plan to seek the party’s nomination in the March primary election, nomination in the March gubernatorial primary, including state Sen. Daniel Biss, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, billionaire J.B. Pritzker and businessman Chris Kennedy, who is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy.
Local lawmakers expressed equal puzzlement with the advertisements.
State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, said she was "speechless" when told how much money was spent on them. She said at a time when places like Webster-Cantrell Hall and Richland Community College are struggling due to a lack of money from the state, it was outrageous for so much to be spent on television ads on behalf of Rauner.
“I feel (Rauner) needs to stop campaigning — the election is well over a year away — and present a budget us lawmakers can come together and vote on,” Scherer said.
When reached Friday afternoon, state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said his main focus was on working to get a budget passed in the General Assembly before the end of May and that he did not think the advertisements would have much effect in the Capitol.
He added that he had no real opinions on the money being spent or whether they qualified as campaign ads.
“(Rauner) has got the money to run the ads, if he wants to run them, he can,” Mitchell said. “He has a perspective and he’s trying to get that point of view out.”
Along with a tweet on Monday criticizing the advertisement, state Sen. Andy Manar said on Friday that the ads struck him as completely out-of-touch with the issues facing Illinois.
“It’s as if he went to Mars to film these things because they come from a completely different reality than what we are facing every single day in Springfield in order to come to a compromise on a budget,” said Manar, D-Bunker Hill. “They come from a completely different world.”
While he said the advertisements would not affect him or his push to pass a budget this spring, Manar said rhetoric like this hinders the ability to negotiate bipartisan deals.
“It contributes to the toxic, hyper-partisan atmosphere that has been injected into Springfield since Bruce Rauner has taken office,” Manar said. “He just cannot help himself. He ought to shut off the television, get rid of the phoney baloney, and just govern.”