In the mayoral money race, the rich—that is, Rahm—gets richer | Bleader

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In the mayoral money race, the rich—that is, Rahm—gets richer

Posted By and on 12.18.14 at 07:00 AM

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially kicked off his campaign in early December, but his fundraising machine has never stopped running.
  • Richard A. Chapman / Sun-Times
  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially kicked off his campaign in early December, but his fundraising machine has never stopped running.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has raised $1.4 million for his reelection bid—and that's just in the last few weeks.

The haul includes more than $500,000 that he received on December 12 alone, according to campaign finance records filed this week. Emanuel already had $8.7 million sitting in his reelection fund before the latest round of donations.

None of his rivals is anywhere close.

Cook County commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia received a boost last week in the form of a $200,000 donation from the American Federation of Teachers, national parent of the Chicago Teachers Union. That follows $52,600 donations from each of those unions in November and $16,000 from the campaign account of CTU president Karen Lewis.

Along with $250,000 Garcia received earlier this month from SEIU Healthcare, the contributions have brought his campaign fund up to about $700,000.

Emanuel's other top challenger, Alderman Robert Fioretti, had about $259,000 on hand at the end of September and has reported raising about $77,000 since.

The huge disparity between the mayor and everyone else—and the wealthy donors who've made it possible—allow Emanuel's foes to cast him as a man of the people in investment banking and private equity.

Of course the mayor's campaign sees it differently.

"Mayor Emanuel has extensive support for his reelection from both organized labor and the business community," campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry wrote in an e-mail. "In fact, of his top 14 contributors, seven are labor unions who support the Mayor's tireless efforts to create jobs in Chicago."

But millions more came from rich supporters with access to the mayor and city government.

Emanuel's top recent donor is Muneer Satter, a former Goldman Sachs executive who serves on the board of World Business Chicago, the city's economic development agency. He gave $100,000 on December 12.

New York-based investor Bernard Schwartz gave $78,800 in recent weeks. Paul Finnegan and Samuel Mencoff, executives with Madison Dearborn Partners, which manages some city pension funds, each gave $50,000. So did developers John Buck and Daniel McCaffrey, Groupon CEO Eric Lefkofsky, restaurateur Richard Melman, and Leslie Bluhm, a philanthropist and daughter of developer Neil Bluhm.

Some of the same donors have been generous to Chicago Forward, a political action committee run by the mayor's allies. Satter, Finnegan, Mencoff, and Lefkofsky have together given $500,000 to the PAC this year. It's collected about $2.5 million since June—and that's on top of the money going into the mayor's reelection fund.

Not so long ago—such as when Emanuel first ran for Congress in 2002—elections in Chicago were largely won on the strength of political organizations that mobilized armies of patronage workers to knock on doors and get the vote out.

But now money buys foot soldiers. Earlier this fall Emanuel's campaign took out ads to find workers to gather signatures to get him on the ballot.

Staffers were crawling around his carefully produced campaign kickoff rally a couple weeks ago.

And he's already buying TV ad time to proclaim his success in closing the city's dirty power plants and boosting the minimum wage. While the mayor played an important role in both efforts, others led the way.

Don't expect the pace of donations to trail off. Earlier this fall William Kelly, a long-shot mayoral hopeful, gave himself $100,000. Under the state's loophole-ridden campaign finance laws, this erased the contribution limits for everyone in the race—even though Kelly ended up bowing out soon afterward.

Some of Emanuel's allies argue that the removal of limits may end up helping his challengers, since they could get a quick infusion of cash from a single donor or two to keep them in the game.

No way, say the challengers. "I'd laugh at the notion that the lifting of the caps helps us more than it helps the mayor," says Michael Kolenc, a spokesman for Fioretti. "Rahm's rich friends are able to write $100,000 checks, not Bob's."

Fioretti says he plans to make up for the deficit with energy. He's been visiting neighborhood events and churches around the city for more than a year. "We do not need to match Rahm dollar for dollar," Kolenc says. "Voters know Rahm, and when they get to know Bob they will vote for him."

But for that to happen Fioretti will still probably need to pay his staff and get onto voters' TV sets—which will require money.

Fioretti's biggest donation so far—$25,000—has come from J.R. Davis, owner of a detective and armored car company. Last week he received $2,500 from Mike Ditka.

Other big names have stayed away. At a recent campaign event, Fioretti said many potential supporters were scared off by the mayor and his big-money friends. "People want to contribute to my campaign but they're scared of retribution," he said.

Garcia's hopes start with the support of progressive organized labor.

Running unopposed for his county board seat, he raised just $28,000 over the summer before he was recruited into the mayoral race by the teachers' unions and other progressives at the end of October.

In November he transferred what was left of that money into his mayoral fund and then started getting donations from the unions and other progressives, many who've known him since his days as an alderman in Harold Washington's coalition: Cook County Clerk David Orr; UIC professor and former independent alderman Dick Simpson; former city corporation counsel Judson Miner; veteran political consultant Don Rose; former state rep and DePaul professor Woods Bowman; and Harold Baron, a former policy adviser to Washington.

The $29,500 given by these six isn't quite a third of the $100,000 that Mayor Emanuel recently got from billionaire John D. Arnold, a former hedge fund manager who lives on Lazy Lane in Houston.

But Monica Trevino, a spokeswoman for Garcia, predicts he'll have enough resources to push Emanuel into a runoff: "Our budget for the first round is about $4 million and we are already 20 percent of the way there after just a month in the race."

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