Illinois GOP’s Chicago-style straw poll

By DOUG IBENDAHL • October 24, 2011


Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady is borrowing a page from the Chicago Democrats in an attempt to raise money for the broke organization he heads. He’s selling votes.


The difference of course is that when the Democrats do it (okay allegedly), someone pays for an actual vote that counts in a real election. Or maybe instead of cash an individual gets a bottle of hooch as a motivator to get-out-the-vote.


Pat Brady’s selling meaningless votes in a pretend election.


It sort of reminds me of the folks who farm pretend crops on Facebook. Yes, it’s America and you can still mostly do what you want. But personally I don’t get it.


It’s also extremely insulting that a guy like Brady who has been so divisive, and who has spent so much time and told so many lies to keep Republican from having a real vote in their own party (i.e., SB35), would now think we’re stupid enough to settle for a phony vote.


Brady brags this will be the first time anyone has sponsored this kind of pay-to-play straw poll, where for five bucks you get to cast a vote online – and nothing else.


Well there’s probably a very good reason for that. It’s not only silly – it looks corrupt on its face. I would assume that any presidential candidate who wants to be taken seriously will stay far away from such an embarrassing scheme that reeks of Chicago-style politics.


Brady tries to compare his thing to the Iowa Straw Poll where $30 was charged for admission this summer. Brady’s obviously never been to that event. The $30 wasn’t to buy a vote. It goes towards an entire day of festivities. Typically nearly all of the leading candidates are there and it’s easy to meet them. The Iowa event has all kinds of live music and entertainment, and all of the food you could possibly want is free.


Plus the $30 admission in Iowa is paid by everyone, including out-of-staters who can’t vote.


It’s true of course that at the Iowa Straw Poll the campaigns spend a lot of money to entice potential voters with free food and activities. Most of the major campaigns also provide free transportation from all corners of the state, and they’ll even buy admission tickets for their supporters.


But at the end of the day each Iowa attendee’s vote is her or his own – no matter how many free goodies were accepted, or from whom. Just ask Tim Pawlenty. His campaign served an unending supply of free Dairy Queen Blizzards at this year’s Iowa event, but it still couldn’t save him from an embarrassing performance. When the Iowa Straw Poll folded its tents, so did Pawlenty’s campaign.


The Iowa GOP also gets money – stacks of it – from each participating presidential campaign. Campaigns compete for the best space on the grounds at Iowa State University, and the better the space the higher the cost. Campaigns make that investment in Iowa because they know they’ll have access to lots of voters and media. And it’s not Chicago-style pay-to-play like Brady’s rolling out. In Iowa the actual voting is just one part of a huge day.


To my knowledge no campaign is investing in Pat Brady’s pay-to-play scheme, presumably for the reasons discussed above. And good grief, can a Republican not even get a Blizzard for their five bucks? Not even a small? Seriously?


So with the politically savvy staying away, Brady’s attempting to raise some money on the backs of the less than astute. Straw polls can be fun. I’m all for doing it as part of some other stand-alone event or rally. But everyone knows they’re pretty meaningless in terms of real value or predictive ability (ask Michele Bachmann).


Brady’s straw poll will be especially meaningless. Basically it will be measuring the preference of that small pool of Republicans gullible enough to give five bucks to Pat Brady.


Besides, we can all just wait and in a little over four months we’ll all have a real vote for our presidential nominee in the Illinois Primary on March 20. And you won’t have to pay five bucks.


The Illinois Republican Party had less than $3,000 in the bank as of September 30th, according to public disclosure reports filed with the State Board of Elections and the Federal Election Commission. Meanwhile the State GOP owes two of Brady’s lawyer friends over $55,000 for doing God knows what. In addition, over $100,000 was owed to other payees as of September 30.


Pat Brady said on the radio last week this straw poll was Mark Kirk’s idea. That doesn’t surprise me. Serious people know that Mark Kirk is the real head of the Illinois Republican Party. Brady’s not doing anything as Chairman because Kirk doesn’t want him doing anything. In Mark Kirk’s mind there is not another election that matters until 2016, the year he’s up again. Until then, no Republican should get any crazy ideas about rocking the boat in Illinois.


This straw poll and all of the other nonsense Pat Brady spins his wheels on, it’s all about going through the motions. It’s all about keeping the rubes occupied. Sure, Barack Obama’s ratings are way down, even in his home state, and maybe a few state legislative seats will be picked up here and there next year when Obama wins Illinois by only 10 or 12 points instead of the 25 points of 2008. But all of that will have to come from natural inertia. Pat Brady’s never going to do his job of working to exploit GOP opportunities to the maximum extent because Mark Kirk doesn’t want to seriously mix things up with Obama and his people. Too many of Obama’s liberal voters are Mark Kirk’s liberal voters in their shared home state.


Brady and Kirk would rather go with the flow than seriously work to change hearts and minds for the Republican cause.


Pat Brady is on his last leg as GOP Chairman. Our State Party is broke (technically more like bankrupt), because every wealthy person with any brains is putting their money elsewhere.


Pat Brady and Mark Kirk know how gullible conservatives can be. They’re hoping the peasants will save them again.


Cutoff the fuel to Brady’s dishonest and inept operation, and Republicans will have a real chance to get a serious new leader in place going into next year’s huge election. But enable Brady with even five bucks of your hard earned money, and frankly you might as well just give it to Obama’s campaign directly.


If you’re a serious Republican – if you want to do more than play the political equivalent of Farmville on Facebook, consider investing that $5 in some shoe leather. Run for Republican Precinct Committeeman. If you live in Cook County, all 50 Republican Ward Committeemen are up for election also. Or take on one of the subpar GOP lawmakers sitting around in Springfield voting like a Democrat. December 5 is the petition deadline for all.


Not a single Republican even bothered to run for Precinct Committeeman in 3,440 precincts across Illinois last year. If thousands more good Republicans stand up by December 5 to get on the March 20 ballot, maybe someday we’ll have a GOP in Illinois that can do more than just play pretend.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.



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