Bobby Rush, Democratic representative for Illinois’ 1st District, has spent $402,044 so far during the 2019-2020 election cycle, with about $41,062 — one-tenth of his expenditures — going to his son, Jeffery Rush.
The payments to his son are the second-most expenditures to any entity or person in the election cycle.
Rush has also paid a much smaller amount, $125, to his nephew Flynn Rush.
Rush has been criticized and questioned in past election cycles for his spending of campaign dollars on family members. Most recently, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics reported on concerns regarding his spending benefitting members of his family in 2018.
Isaac Wink, policy analyst at Reform for Illinois, said there may be a reason to keep close attention to these payments.
“A committee paying a candidate’s family members could be concerning if there was reason to suspect that the family members aren’t providing genuine services,” said Wink in an email.
Brian Gaines, professor in the University of Illinois Department of Political Science, said even “seasoned incumbents” will disregard the regulations of employing family members based on their expectations of their constituent’s level of responsiveness.
“There are two issues: what is legally permitted and what would play poorly in the court of public opinion,” Gaines said in an email. “If an incumbent expects little or no backlash from his constituents for paying his family members, the practice is not strictly illegal.”
In 2018, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California was federally indicted after being accused of spending over $250,000 of campaign dollars on personal expenses along with his wife, Margaret Hunter. This past March, he was sentenced to 11 months in federal prison.
Hunter had named his wife as his campaign manager, allowing her to receive payments from campaign funding. The congressman reported the spending to the Federal Election Commission but lied about what exactly the money was being spent on.
In previous cycles, Rush has paid several more members of his family with campaign money than the two he has paid this cycle. In 2016 alone, Rush paid six family members, once again including Jeffery Rush and Flynn Rush.
Rush and his staff did not respond to requests for comment.
Throughout the 2019-2020 election cycle thus far, Rush has also spent significantly less campaign dollars than most other Democratic congressional candidates throughout the state’s districts.
Of the 16 other Democrats running for a congressional seat in Illinois, only four have spent less than Rush.
So far, Rep. Danny Davis, of District 7, has spent $334,862. Ray Lenzi, of District 12, has spent $75,874 running against incumbent Rep. Mike Bost. Dani Brzozowski, of District 16, has spent $69,164 running against incumbent Rep. Adam Kinzinger. And Erika Weaver, of District 15, has spent the least of all Democratic candidates running for an Illinois congressional seat at $4,978.
Rush, who has occupied his seat in the House of Representatives for 27 years, spent $320,467 in the 2017-2018 election cycle, which is $81,577 less than he has already spent this cycle.
Gaines said the increase in spending during this particular cycle may be contributed to the fact that Rush had three opponents in the primaries.
“…Incumbents will sometimes spend a lot when they expect or actually face a serious primary challenger, even if they ultimately win the general election by a huge margin,” said Gaines.
But despite facing those opponents in the primary, Rush won 71.5 percent of the vote, according to Ballotpedia.
Rush will be running against Republican candidate Philanise White this election cycle, who was previously elected as Chicago’s 7th Ward committeewoman in 2016.
White’s spending on this election has not been listed by the Federal Election Commission.
In general elections, the 1st Congressional District is one of the most solidified blue districts in the state, both historically and presently. The last time the district was represented by a Republican was in 1935.
“In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 75 percent of the vote in Rush’s district, so it’s safe to say that many voters in the district are inclined to vote Democratic [again] even before Rush spends money trying to persuade them,” wrote Wink.
Brendan Quinn, the Outreach and Social Media Manager at OpenSecrets, a non-profit, non-partisan group that monitors campaign finance, said the spending trend is typical of incumbents in a position like Rush.
“Candidates who are considered ‘safe’ or at least feel themselves to be safe and unlikely to lose typically raise and spend less than those in more competitive races,” said Quinn in an email. “We’ll have to wait until November to see if Rep. Rush was correct not to worry.”