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It's official. J.B. Pritzker has contributed more money to his own campaign than any other candidate in history. The Democrat is running for governor in Illinois. The record had been held by Meg Whitman in her failed run for California governor in 2010. Pritzker, a billionaire, has given his campaign $161.5 million so far. This is not adjusted for inflation, though he's closing in on that record, too. From WBEZ in Chicago, Tony Arnold reports on what all that money has meant for the race.
TONY ARNOLD, BYLINE: A lot of Pritzker's campaign money has gone toward advertising. And normally this would be the part of the story where you would hear a montage of those ads, maybe the one where Pritzker ties his Republican opponent incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner to President Trump, or the one where Pritzker touts his philanthropy, or even how Pritzker likes puppies. And, yeah, that was a real ad. Apparently, these are all helping Pritzker's campaign. He's enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls over Rauner but perhaps at a cost. So in the spirit of Jimmy Kimmel's celebrities reading mean tweets, here are some NPR producers reading tweets of potential voters who have maybe seen one too many J.B. Pritzker commercials.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: @Riffs33 - (reading) the average human being is exposed to 4,000-plus ads a day, and J.B. Pritzker appears in all of them.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: @182mph - (reading) I literally had to buy Spotify Premium just so I wouldn't hear J.B. Pritzker ads every two songs.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: @IvanJukic333 - (reading) when I win the Mega Millions, I'm going to somehow find a way to stop all these J.B. Pritzker ads.
ARNOLD: And, hey, it's close to the election. So to be fair to Pritzker, his ads do sometimes seem to work.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: @teto_0207 - (reading) all these ads J.B. Pritzker is releasing on legalizing marijuana just might make me vote for him.
ARNOLD: Pritzker has spent about $80 million on advertising. Though his campaign points out all this record-breaking money isn't just for commercials, that between field offices and staff, they have built one of the biggest campaign infrastructures in the country, and that Pritzker has been giving millions to fellow Democrats. Pritzker says he's not doing that just to buy their loyalty should he become governor. He's doing that because he has always given Democrats lots of money.
J B PRITZKER: You're mistaking something, and that is that I've been involved in Democratic politics for decades now and supporting candidates, most of whom could not - right? - you know, to support their own campaigns, they needed to raise money.
ARNOLD: Pritzker's money comes from his family. He's an heir to the Hyatt Hotel franchise. But his Republican opponent, Rauner, frames the Democrats' campaign spending like this.
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BRUCE RAUNER: He is trying to buy political office. He's trying to buy the governorship to be something for the first time in his life because if he wasn't a trust fund baby, he would be nothing.
ARNOLD: Pritzker says it's statements like that which show how desperate Rauner is. Rauner himself is rich. He started his re-election campaign with $70 million - 50 million from himself and 20 million from one of the few people in Illinois richer than Pritzker, Ken Griffin. Pritzker outspent Rauner nearly 2 to 1 in the last three months.
JAY YOUNG: It's just distressing where you see these figures. And I just feel like it makes people think that their democracy really isn't for them anymore.
ARNOLD: Jay Young leads Common Cause Illinois, and he's been tracking this money fight.
YOUNG: I'm hoping that it doesn't end up that the only field that we see from now going forward is billionaires. But sadly, we - that's the way we've been trending.
ARNOLD: He says if Pritzker does defeat Rauner, that could just set up another self-financing Republican to challenge Pritzker in four years. For NPR News, I'm Tony Arnold in Chicago.
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