Kasiar compares his slim campaign budget with Phelps' PAC-fueled war chest
A day before the general election, the fundraising machine for a Southern Illinois Democrat looking to hold onto his state House seat is humming to keep commercials on the air and fliers in the mail.
Since Sept. 30, state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), an incumbent representing District 118, has received more than $335,000 by his political funding committee. Late last week, the Illinois Pipe Trades PAC transferred $53,900 to Phelps. On the same day, a plaintiffs attorney law firm wrote him a check for $4,600. Two days later, the Democratic Party of Illinois donated more than $7,800 worth of printing and postage.
It’s not surprising, as the name of a well-played political game is fundraising, but it's still a bit of a surprise for Jason Kasiar, Phelps' Republican opponent.
Kasiar has funded much of his campaign on his own, with the help of some small donations from his family and local supporters. The largest donations were for $5,400, from individuals instead of political action committees. After months of knocking on doors to compensate for a modest marketing budget, Kasiar has learned just how much it costs to make voters familiar with a politician’s name. Running a single ad on one network costs $1,300 — a high price for a grassroots candidate with no support from the state party.
“I’ve been really disappointed in the whole process,” Kasiar told Southwest Illinois News. “I feel a bit naive that I thought doing the right thing was what people wanted. It doesn’t feel like it at this point.”
Kasiar said political ads have painted his opponent as a bipartisan elected official, but the support from the Democratic Party and his voting record show he falls in line with statehouse leaders, such as House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago).
“Look where the money’s coming from," Kasiar said. "He comes down here and says he’s the most bipartisan Democrat in the Legislature. I’m going to guarantee you this: If he’s the most bipartisan legislator, there’s no way Madigan and his goons are going to pour a million dollars into his campaign."
Phelps, who was first elected to the House in 2003, is out of touch with the district, Kasiar said. Voters in the district's 11 counties would be shocked to see Phelps spend monthly sums that equal their average annual incomes, Kasiar said.
“They’re going to say that I say that because I don’t have any money,” Kasiar said. “I tried to raise my money in the district. This is a very poor district, and I know that.”
Kasiar said he believes a campaign can be run for as little as $50,000. Instead, he’s had to compete with the deep pockets of special interests, as well as commercials attempting to smear Kasiar’s public-service record by saying he voted to raise property taxes and administrators' salaries while serving on a local school board. Both are lies, Kasiar said. Minutes from school-board meetings show administrative salaries have declined since Kasiar began serving on the board and are well below the state average salary of $110,000. Additionally, he was the only board member to vote against tax increases, and the school district has the lowest tax rate in the area, Kasiar said.
“He’s out there just lying and doing whatever it takes to stay elected,” Kasiar said. “But I don’t have the money to throw out there like he does.”