Two Republican governors are copying an unusual tactic from President Barack Obama’s political playbook: using pet political groups seeded by donors to push policies, not just candidates.
Political organizations tied to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Florida Gov. Rick Scott are diverging from the typical so-called leadership PACs used by federal lawmakers and some governors to amass power because they are not just giving campaign contributions to like-minded legislators. Instead they are pushing the governors’ legislative agendas with public campaigns far removed from the campaign trail.
The Rauner and Scott groups resemble that of another prominent chief executive facing resistant lawmakers: Obama’s Organizing for Action, a nonprofit formed from his former presidential campaign committees. The group has advocated for Obama’s legislative priorities, such as the Affordable Care Act.
At a time when money drives politics, these efforts offer a new way for wealthy outsiders and special interest groups to influence not just who is elected to office but actual policies.
“This just seems like another extension of how big money has become so much more prevalent in the process,” said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield, where he works with the Institute for Legislative Studies.
Meanwhile newly formed groups in other states have announced that they, too, intend to support their respective governors’ policy priorities. They may follow the lead of the Illinois and Florida groups, with 2016 legislative sessions just around the corner.
Shortly after Rauner took office this year, Illinois political groups linked to the Republican governor began airing TV ads and sending out postcards criticizing longtime Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan as the state Legislature was gearing up for a vote on the state budget.
“Mike Madigan and the politicians he controls refuse to change,” the voiceover in a TV ad warns. “They’re saying 'no' to spending discipline, 'no' to job-creating economic reforms, 'no' to term limits. All they want is higher taxes. Again.”
It appears to be a typical campaign ad, except that it aired roughly seven months after Rauner and Madigan were both elected, and nine months before primary voters could next be asked to turn Madigan out of office. At the end, Rauner, speaking directly to the camera, doesn’t ask viewers to vote for or against anyone.