Democrat Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner have raised almost $100 million in their bitter race for governor.
  • Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photos
  • Democrat Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner have raised almost $100 million in their bitter race for governor.

Here is today’s $100 million question: which candidate for governor is going to get your vote?

I mean this literally. Since the beginning of last year, Democrat Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner have together raked in $97 million—and counting—to fund campaigns attacking each other over their management of money.

And you thought this state was broke.

By now you probably know what each side is trying to sell you. In case you missed it—well, maybe you were lucky. But here’s the deal.

Rauner, the challenger, has never run for elected office but says he’s qualified for the state’s top job because he made hundreds of millions of dollars as a private equity investor—including huge sums managing state pensions. He notes that the state is wobbling under annual budget deficits, pension systems underfunded by a jaw-dropping $100 billion, and sluggish job growth.

To address these issues, Rauner has filled the airwaves with commercials naming who he thinks is to blame: “Pat Quinn has failed,” he says.

He’s a little light on details of what he’ll do if he’s elected, other than create a “pro-growth administration”—which means enacting reforms to help businesses pay fewer taxes and make more money.

To aid his Quinn-is-costing-you-money efforts, Rauner has gone out and bought a political party, sending more than $7 million in campaign funds to the state Republican organization and thousands more to local party organizations and candidates.

On the other side, Quinn is happy to talk about money, as long as we’re focusing on how Rauner made his. There was the chain of nursing homes sued repeatedly for providing inadequate care that led to deaths. The tax shelters in the Cayman Islands. The shipping of jobs overseas. The businesses that preyed on poor people. The bullying of former employees . . .

Did the governor mention that Rauner is a millionaire? That he’s rich? That he might even be a billionaire? That he’s really, really wealthy? He did.

Quinn also points out that the state is doing better than when he took over in 2009, and portrays himself as a regular guy fighting off the special interests of the rich. “Money can’t buy you facts,” he says.

Quinn is hoping you believe him when he says this election is really about whether the wealthy—people like Bruce Rauner and his friends—should have to pay their fair share. That’s why he’s talked about raising the minimum wage, which might happen on his watch, and not about raising your taxes, which certainly will.

He and other Democrats are urging people to weigh in on two ballot initiatives: one asking whether the minimum wage should be raised, the other whether millionaires should pay more taxes to fund education. Both are nonbinding, and the governor and General Assembly don’t need them to put the policies in place. But the real point is to fire up voters, since people are generally in favor of getting paid more and helping schoolchildren.

All of this is why, as the voting gets underway, it’s helpful to remember who’s paying for these messages.

Between January 1, 2013, and the first of this week, the governor received more than $31 million in campaign contributions.

His top source of money—more than $5 million—came from the national Democratic Governors Association, which really doesn’t want to lose President Obama’s home state.

Another $3.4 million came from the Service Employees International Union, while the United Association, a trade union, pitched in more than $1 million, followed by substantial donations from other labor groups, including the Laborers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Unions also funded the Illinois Freedom PAC, which has launched blistering attack ads on Rauner. Its primary source of funds has been the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which gave more than $2 million.

Quinn’s largest individual donor was Fred Eychaner, a businessman and top fundraiser for Democrats around the country. He contributed more than $1 million.

But that’s chump change on Rauner’s side of the ledger. The Republican raised more than twice what Quinn did, hauling in nearly $66 million.

Rauner’s top donor is a longtime fan who’s deeply impressed with the candidate’s previous work. That would be Rauner himself, who donated more than $27 million of his personal fortune to his campaign fund.

That’s not to say Rauner doesn’t have other supporters. The Republican Governors Association, led by his mentor Chris Christie of New Jersey, sent close to $9 million. Hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, contributed about $5 million, including the use of his private jet.

And the Illinois Republican Party turned around and spent $2.5 million of the money Rauner gave it on his campaign.

Add it all up and you have what polls are predicting will be an extremely close race, probably decided by mere thousands of votes in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

What we know for sure is that Rauner will win by one measure: the amount of money spent per vote received.

But even in this era of virtually unchecked campaign financing, that’s not the score that counts.

In an era of growing inequality, Quinn doesn’t inspire a lot of people, but Rauner looks like a guy who tries to buy them. And the governor’s biggest supporters—unions, Democratic Party organizations—have more members than Rauner’s.

If they turn out, the governor will eke it out. But I’m not putting money on it.

NOTE: We’ll be tracking the election from a number of angles this evening. Check our homepage starting at 7 PM for live streaming of an election night special from the Hideout with me and Ben Joravsky, and for news updates from the Rauner and Quinn campaigns.