Despite no opposing candidate, U.S. Congressman Darin LaHood outspent all other Illinois Republican candidates during the 2020 election cycle.
In the 2020 cycle so far, LaHood decreased his spending from $1.2 million to $1.1 million after the 2018 cycle, but he is still outspending other Illinois Republican candidates.
So far, out of the other top-spending Illinois Republican candidates running in the 2020 election, LaHood has outspent Jim Oberweis from the 14th District by $90,000, Jeanne Ives from the 6th District by $84,000 and incumbent Rodney Davis from the 13th District by $10,000.
LaHood, the Republican incumbent running for Illinois’ 18th Congressional District seat, is spending the least amount of money he has spent while campaigning in his district. LaHood was elected to Congress in 2015 following Aaron Schock’s resignation amid a scandal regarding Schock’s usage of public and campaign funds.
According to OpenSecrets and Federal Election Commission records, LaHood’s top disbursements of $411,589 during the 2020 election cycle went to the fundraising firm 814 Consulting LLC and the consulting firm Hodas & Associates.
His other top disbursements went to PNC Bank, consulting firm The Voyageur Company LLC and BKZ Consulting Partners.
In the 2018 cycle, his top disbursements went to 814 Consulting LLC and BKZ Consulting Partners, which he paid $691,182. PNC Bank, Hodas & Associates, The Voyageur Company LLC and the National Republican Congressional Committee were also top recipients in LaHood’s disbursements report.
Andrew Mayersohn, a committee researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, said LaHood has spent a high percentage of his finances on fundraising consulting but said the pattern is not uncommon. He said candidates always want to deter potential opponents and primary candidates from running, even if the candidate is in a safe seat within the district.
“Now that said, if you’re spending all your money on fundraising, it can be an indication that you’re not getting your money’s worth because obviously, the goal of raising that money is to eventually use it on other things,” Mayersohn said. “But raising and spending a lot of money even if you have a safe seat and no challenger is not unusual by itself.”
Between the 2018 and 2020 cycles, LaHood’s expenditures to 814 Consulting LLC decreased by 47%, and his spending to PNC Bank decreased by 40%. His payments to The Voyageur Company LLC decreased by 44% and his payments to BKZ Consulting Partners decreased by 63%. His contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee decreased by 85%.
Candidates must adhere to guidelines that control what disbursements their campaigns can make, and the FEC oversees candidates’ yearly disbursement reports.
The FEC permits campaign funds to be used for certain purposes that are not related to the candidate’s campaign for federal office, but it strictly prohibits candidates from using campaign funds for personal use. However, candidates can spend campaign money to pay for meals, travel and fundraising related-expenses that result from their campaign activity.
LaHood spent a considerable portion of his finances on event catering, event tickets, event venue rental and event sponsorships. He spent $10,885 at the Jacksonville Country Club in Jacksonville, Illinois, and spent $16,536 at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia. LaHood spent approximately $85,920 overall on event-related functions.
Mayersohn said event-related expenses are a common way for candidates to raise money and said fundraiser events at country and golf clubs are something wealthy people enjoy doing.
LaHood also made several trips to upscale restaurants, such as Joe’s Stone Crab, Charlie Palmer Steak, The Capital Grille and Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. He spent $3,153 at The Capital Grille over the course of nine visits and spent approximately $9,478 overall at the four restaurants.
During the 2019-2020 cycle, LaHood spent approximately $41,760 on travel and lodging expenses. He spent an overall $10,148 at Marriott Hotels, Ritz Carlton hotels, Hyatt Hotels and The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, along with spending $25,448 at United Airlines, $3,752 at Southwest Airlines and $5,388 on Uber.
Kent Redfield, a retired University of Illinois Springfield political science professor who specialized in campaign finances, said the amount of money a candidate raises and spends gives a sense of what the candidate is doing with his office.
Redfield said an incumbent should use their campaign money to maintain their name and presence within their district. He said unopposed candidates will typically spend less money but said LaHood continues to save and spend money to prevent appearing vulnerable to potential challengers.
“Anytime you build name recognition and get a presence in your district and people recognize your name and you’re positively perceived, that takes getting out there, providing access and being able to spend campaign money to build up your presence and your political stock—whether you have an opponent or not—is a smart thing to do,” he said.
Redfield said LaHood is a low-profile candidate in a relatively safe, non-competitive district, so he doesn’t have a “constant target on his back” like higher-profile candidates in other districts do. He said LaHood is in a safe district because he has built a trust-based, non-partisan presence within his district.
Redfield said LaHood’s incumbency means he doesn’t need to pay for ads to introduce himself to the district, which means he can focus his spending on maintaining his already established presence within the district.
LaHood has remained unopposed for re-election since his opponent Mark Haasis ended his campaign late last year because of medical issues, yet a majority of LaHood’s expenditures went toward fundraising and fundraising consulting.
Redfield said LaHood should be careful to avoid scandals by erring on the side of caution when spending his campaign money. He said LaHood should maintain a level of activity so donors will be encouraged to donate money and see him campaigning and involving himself in his district.