The Chicago Syndicate: Super PAC Raises $1.3 Million Plus for Reelection of Rahm Emanuel
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Monday, July 28, 2014

Super PAC Raises $1.3 Million Plus for Reelection of Rahm Emanuel

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has stockpiled more than $8 million in campaign money for his re-election.

That hasn't stopped a super PAC backed by the Democrat's allies from gathering six-figure checks from some of Chicago's best-known business leaders before February's election. In four weeks, Chicago Forward raised more than $1.3 million from donors, such as hedge-fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin and Groupon Chairman Eric Lefkofsky.

The big-dollar support for Emanuel's agenda is the latest sign that super PAC-scale spending is hitting local contests. Super PACs, allowed by a pair of federal court rulings in 2010, can accept unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals to influence elections, but they cannot coordinate their activity with candidates.

"It's the new, shiny object," said Edwin Bender, executive director of the non-partisan National Institute on Money in State Politics. "A lot of money can flow easily through super PACs."

Super PACs focused on individual contests are a big factor in this year's races for Congress. In all, 61 candidate-specific super PACs have spent more than $21 million to influence races, data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics show. They account for more than 25% of all super PAC activity in federal races.

There's no central database of super PACs that operate at the municipal level, but a review of city-level campaign-finance records shows a new wave of unlimited outside money swamping mayoral races coast-to-coast.

In Illinois, Emanuel awaits a big-name rival. This month, one of his strongest potential challengers, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, announced she would not run for mayor. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is weighing a challenge.

The city's business elite already is voting with its wallet.

Griffin, the founder of Citadel, Groupon's Lefkofsky and Michael Sacks, the CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, each gave $150,000 to Chicago Forward on a single day last month, Illinois campaign-finance records show. Sacks serves as Emanuel's vice chairman on the city's privately financed business-development group.

None of the three contributors returned phone calls.

Rebecca Carroll, a former spokeswoman for Chicago schools and for Emanuel's 2002 congressional campaign, runs Chicago Forward. She did not respond to messages. On its website, the group pledges to support candidates in the 2015 municipal elections "who demonstrate a shared commitment to policies and priorities that will continue to move our city forward."

Chicago Forward touts issues that mirror Emanuel's priorities, including an overhaul of the pension benefits for many city workers.

Emanuel cannot coordinate with the group and cannot take checks larger than $5,300 from an individual for his own campaign. But it's clear that his aides do not object to a super PAC telling positive stories about his first term in office.

"The mayor is focused on helping local neighborhoods, local communities, local schools improve — taking their ideas and working with the city to make them work for every neighborhood in Chicago," said campaign spokesman Peter Giangreco. "To the extent that there are other groups out there that talk about those success stories, then it helps everybody in Chicago."

In addition to talking up successes, the super PAC could train its fire on the mayor's eventual challengers and help elect Emanuel allies to the City Council.

The super PAC's leaders "are guaranteeing that the City Council isn't going to block him," said Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a former city alderman.

Thanks to Fredreka Schouten.

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