News Column

Cash pours into mayoral races

July 27, 2014

By Fredreka Schouten, @fschouten, USA TODAY

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 New Jersey this year, for instance, outside super PACs spent nearly $5.3 million to influence Newark's hotly contested mayor's race -- outspending the candidates themselves, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. That's a record amount of outside spending in a Garden State election.

Newark First, which backed law professor Shavar Jeffries' unsuccessful bid, was the biggest spender, pumping $4.2 million into the race. Most of its money came from Education Reform Now, a group funded by several New York money managers who support charter schools and tightening tenure rules for public school teachers. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who backs charter schools, donated $400,000 to the pro-Jeffries' super PAC.

In the end, Democrat Ras Baraka prevailed in the election in May.

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.


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Source: USA Today

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