Last updated on 12/10/2016

This last last election, some governors chose to increase their influence through their wealth

A few wealthy governors attempted to tip the scale in their favor.
Pete ricketts
Published by Victor Cassone

This last election, wealthy governors throughout the country used their personal money to influence the elections of their respective state representatives.

Pete Ricketts, Governor of Nebraska and Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois were the most prominent of these offenders. They spent more money than just about any other governor in an attempt to influence the elections of their respective state legislatures. Their goal was simple. They wanted to use their own personal resources to help elect people they knew would push their agenda.

Unfortunately this is nothing new. As long as there has been governments, there has been people finding ways to use their money to buy influence. What you don’t see very often is a sitting governor spending large amounts of their own money to try and shape their current state government.

There are clear advantages for a governor to have this type of financial involvement. First, it’s passive threat to sitting legislatures. It tells them that there are consequences for not voting the “right” way. Second, it physically replaces people with opposing views. Lastly, If these legislatures that received money do get elected then they are expected to pay it back in terms of votes. All of these options creates more power for the governor

It’s important to note that this is perfectly legal. It’s their money and they can spend it as they wish. However, even if it is legal, I can't imagine this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

Governor Rauner spent upwards of $20 Million on this last election cycle. Rauner was elected governor of Illinois in 2014. He acquired his fortune through his private equity firm GTCR. In the 2016 election, his personal campaign committee contributed over $16 million to the Illinois Republican Party. On top of that he gave $2 million to the Turnaround Illinois PAC which has a mission statement of "to support state legislative candidates who support Gov. Rauner’s bold and needed reforms, and to oppose those who stand in the way”.

Rauner donations combined contributed to around 70% of all the total donations toward the Republican party in Illinois. Rauner is not only the most powerful politician in Illinois but is also one of the most influential donors.

Governor Ricketts contributions are also concerning. Ricketts had his veto overturned a few time early in the term and he has made public his distaste for some of his state legislature. At the 2016 GOP State Convention he publicly called out the GOP legislatures that opposed him for not being “platform republicans”.

The most high profile of these overturned vetoes was the repeal of the death penalty. The state legislatures voted to repeal the death penalty, Ricketts vetoed, then the legislators overrode his veto. This irked Ricketts so much he risked his name to find another way to make it law.

Ricketts gave $300,000 of his own money to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty which had the goal of getting a referendum on the death penalty. Ricketts wealth gave him a means to push his agenda without the legislature's consent. Ricketts ended up being successful on his referendum and the death penalty was reinstated.

His other contributions were giving $72,500 to state GOP candidates that aligned with his politics and $137,000 to the Nebraska Republican party.

The concerning thing with the Ricketts donations was not the amount of money he spent but his blatant attempt to bypass his state legislatures to get the legislation he wanted. He is determined to get what he wants and has the pocketbook to back it up.

Both Ricketts and Rauner were fighting for what they believed was right. You can’t fault them for that. They have leverage that most other governors don’t have and they are are using it their advantage.

The issue lies in the principle. Democracies are supposed to have a system of check and balances. When one branch gets too strong the system and the citizens suffer. Wealthy governors have the advantage of tipping the scale in their favor. This imbalance ends up hurting us all eventually.