A mailer sent by the Gun Violence Prevention PAC sent on behalf of State Sen. Tom Rooney (R-Rolling Meadows).

Three suburban Republican senators facing touch re-election bids are getting help from the Gun Violence Prevention Political Action Committee during a year dominated by debates over gun policy and headlines about gun violence in Illinois and beyond.

Earlier this month, the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee contributed $38,000 to the Gun Violence Prevention Political Action Committee — the largest one-time contribution the organization known as GPAC has received in its nearly six-year history. According to campaign finance records, the Republican committee’s donation also makes it the fourth largest donor to the committee, coming in just behind three people directly involved with the founding and operations of GPAC.

With that $38,000, the committee sent out mailers on behalf of State Sens. Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst), John Curran (R-Downers Grove) and Tom Rooney (R-Rolling Meadows), touting the three Republicans’ votes on gun legislation. Those three senators are locked in contentious races in the suburbs, where Republicans are worried about winning the votes of women.

Lawmakers this spring passed three pieces of gun legislation, including the Gun Dealer Licensing Act (SB 337), which Gov. Bruce Rauner has vowed to veto, though it has not yet been sent to his desk.

Rauner signed HB 2354 — legislation meant to raise a “red flag,” which gives courts the authority to use emergency civil restraining orders to take guns away from individuals that loved ones alerts law enforcement may be a danger to themselves or others. The governor also signed SB 3256, which allows for a 72-hour waiting period for handguns delivery is extended to all guns purchased in Illinois.

Nybo, Curran and Rooney voted yes on all three bills, while the trio largely supported iterations of two other proposals that did not end up passing through both chambers. The abandoned bills would have banned bump stocks and raised the legal age for buying an assault weapon in Illinois from 18 to 21.

GPAC Executive Director Kathleen Sances told The Daily Line on Friday that she “couldn’t be more pleased” that Republicans have stepped forward to support gun reform in Illinois, and said the organization was glad because this year was the “first time ever” that GOP incumbents had submitted answers to candidate questionnaires that GPAC had been putting out since 2014.

“We’ve always benefited from Democrats [supporting us] on the issue and now we’re getting backing and support form the Republican party,” Sances said. “I think this is a turning point for the movement in our state. we’re proud of it…we’ve been working very hard to educate voters in key legislative districts mostly in the suburbs.”

Reaching across the aisle is necessary on gun issues, especially because some Democrats are either gun control opponents or do not vote on the issue, Sances said.

“We can’t pass policy without bipartisan support and honestly…I know people try to make it a partisan issue but we represent victims and survivors,” Sances said. “People are dead, people are being shot every two hours.”

GPAC endorsed the three GOP senators in July, along with State Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard). The organization ultimately endorsed 75 lawmakers — the remaining 71 Democrats. Of the group, 43 are incumbents, while 32 are challengers. GPAC has also endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee JB Pritzker and attorney general nominee State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago). 

The organization spent nearly $59,000 on the three mailers on behalf of Nybo, Curran and Rooney, plus an additional $4,607 for a mailer on behalf of Democrat Daniel Didech, running for the 59th House District to succeed outgoing State Rep. Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills). Sances said GPAC had done voter identification work in those four districts, which resulted in the mailers.

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All four mailers feature positive language touting the the GOP senators’ votes on the gun legislation, but the mailers for Nybo and Didech also contain small sections attacking their opponents. Nybo’s mailer asks why Democrat Suzy Glowiak of Western Springs “won’t…tell the truth?”

“Suzy Glowiak said in her campaign video that Chris Nybo is backed by the NRA,” the mailer says. “Why is she lying? Fact: The NRA has given Chris Nybo an ‘F’ rating.”

The mailer for Didech, a Democrat from Buffalo Grove slams Republican Karen Feldman of Lincolnshire for “refus[ing] to answer questions about keeping our children safe from violence.”

“What is Karen Feldman hiding?” the mailer asks. “Who will she put first?”

Beyond those four mailers, which GPAC spent nearly $59,000 on, the organization also sent endorsement letters on behalf of Nybo, Curran, Rooney and Didech, in addition to Democrats State Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg) and State Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield).

Sances also said GPAC is now helping Rooney with social media messaging, and will do a “live phone” program ahead of Election Day for get-out-the-vote efforts. But Sances declined to say which districts the get out-the-vote effort would target.

GPAC’s focus on three Senate Republicans has left some Democratic strategists scratching their heads, one describing it as a strange “gamble.”

“They’re supporting those [GOP senators] over the pro-reform Democrats, despite the incumbents’ past votes against such measures,” one Democratic operative said. “These guys just started voting closer to their way this year…because it’s an election year perhaps? Why wouldn’t they support the women who they know will be with them through and through?”

Last week, Democratic House candidate Terra Costa Howard, who is challenging Breen, suggested her opponent’s votes on gun bills were disingenuous, but Breen defended his vote to the Daily Herald, saying the recent spate of gun bills were the first real opportunity he had to vote on legislation limiting access to guns.

Sances said GPAC’s endorsement guidelines dictate that the group supports incumbents who “submit 100% questionnaires and seek public public endorsement.” Rooney was the first Republican who attracted GPAC’s attention, Sances said, as he “was the first Republican to break from his party in April 2017” when he voted SB 1657, the first version of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, which Rauner vetoed in March.

“Because of his bravery, it led to 12 Senate and House Republicans voting on the final version of [gun] dealer regulation,” Sances said. “I feel strongly he should not lose his job because of this vote.”

Sances also pointed to GPAC’s support of other candidates since the primary, including State Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights), State Rep. Natalie Manley (D-Joliet), State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero), State Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) and State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) though those contributions have been small dollar amounts compared with the organization’s support for Nybo, Rooney and Curran. GPAC also contributed $10,000 to the Illinois House Victory Fund in April. Breen received $1,000 from the group a week after the primary election in March.

Earlier this year, a GPAC-commissioned a poll found that 65 percent of Illinois Republicans, 72 percent of voters in GOP-held districts and 71 percent of Illinois voters overall are in favor of licensing gun dealers, Sances said. The poll, which was conducted by a Republican polling firm and advised by a Democratic one, according to Sances, also found that 72 percent of suburban voters and 63 percent of gun owners favor the Gun Dealer Licensing Act.

Brian Burian, Executive Director of the Illinois Senate Republicans’ political organization, told The Daily Line on Sunday that GPAC’s endorsement of the RSSCC’s caucus members is fitting of their districts.

“Illinois is a diverse state and our members, whose districts are spread throughout, are representing their constituents an being endorsed for it,” Burian said.

GPAC gave $7,500 to both Rooney and Curran, and $2,500 to Nybo in August and September, along with a combined $25,000 in in-kind contributions for the trio. Those in-kind payments were made to Chicago-based communications firm The Sexton Group, which specializes in phone call and text message communications. State records show The Sexton Group’s clientele is by and large Democratic, including Pritzker, State Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Friday, the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee contributed $40,000 to pro-gun group the Illinois State Rifle Association, which puts its three members supported by GPAC — Nybo, Curran and Rooney in the gun lobby’s crosshairs. The State Rifle Association has orchestrated action calls from its members to the government offices of Nybo, Curran and Rooney, putting them on the defensive about their votes in support of tougher gun control.

When asked about the donations, Curran told The Daily Line that he did not know about the senate committee’s recent contribution to ISRA, but is “glad to have GPAC’s support and endorsement.”