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Rauner’s $500,000 donation to lift fund-raising limits in gov race

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Updated: December 15, 2013 12:03PM

The sky will soon be the limit for candidates raising cash to run for governor.

Wealthy venture capitalist Bruce Rauner is putting $500,000 of his own money into his Republican campaign kitty.

The move essentially frees his three primary rivals — as well as Democratic candidates — to take donations of any size. But it also sparked immediate criticism that Rauner will “stop at nothing to buy his way into office.”

Rauner has already notified the Illinois State Board of Elections of his contribution, according to a source close to the campaign.

The infusion of cash is a preamble to a significant media buy that Rauner’s campaign is expected to launch on Friday on broadcast and cable in all of the state’s major media markets.

A Rauner insider described the buy as a long-term, sustained purchase at significant levels. The source said: “Voters who need to be seeing the ads will be seeing the ads.”

By making the move now, Rauner is working to overcome his biggest weakness — lack of name recognition — early on, before the TV airwaves gets crowded with political ads in February. The primary election is in March.

A TV ad to go public on Thursday blames incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and “career politicians” for “record spending, job losses, taxes and one of the worst run governments in America.” In the ad, the Winnetka millionaire champions himself as a businessman who can make due with an $18 wrist-watch.

But one of Rauner’s GOP rivals, state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale wasted no time blasting Rauner for digging into his own pocketbook.

“Bruce Rauner has shown he will stop at nothing to buy his way into office, but Republican voters will see through it. Rauner voted as a Democrat and has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrat candidates like Dick Durbin, Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel,” said Dillard campaign manager Glenn Hodas.

“GOP voters can’t be bought. They want a governor who is tested and prepared, with the experience that money can’t buy.”

Rauner is locked in a four-way gubernatorial primary for the GOP nod.

In addition to Dillard, state Sen. Bill Brady R-Bloomington and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford are competing for the right to take on Quinn.

“Since announcing for governor, Bruce has gained significant grassroots support, completing more than 300 events and recruiting 1,000 active volunteers and over 70 volunteer coordinators,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. “Now is the right time to spread Bruce’s message of shaking up Springfield far and wide.”

Rauner has raised more than his three primary competitors combined – plus another $1 million.

By waiting until now to take the caps off, Rauner was able to cripple efforts of his competitors to tap big-money donors who then ended up gravitating to Rauner. That includes Ron Gidwitz, who joined on Rauner’s campaign team, abandoning his previous support for Dillard.

Rauner insiders argue that he has proven he has built widespread support before sinking significant amounts of personal funds into the race. Before this week, Rauner was just $1,000 shy of the threshold to take off the caps — having given $249,000 of his own money. He’s now given $749,000 of his own money into his campaign. He has not disclosed his upper limit, but aides have said he would do what it takes to win.

Under state law, candidates can only accept contributions of up to $5,300 from individuals and $52,600 from political action committees.

But those caps are lifted for everyone in a campaign if any statewide candidate or member of the candidate’s immediate family contributes or loans more than $250,000 to his or her campaign during the 12 months prior to an election.

So Rauner’s latest infusion allows all three other Republicans, as well as Quinn on the Democratic side, to accept contributions of any size.

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