Three Super PACs — which are aligned with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, charter schools and real estate interests — are on track to spend at least $1.5 million in a runoff in an effort to elect supportive aldermen on Tuesday as Chicago enters a new political era after Emanuel’s retirement.
State law defines independent expenditures as any payment made to expressly advocate for or against a candidate. That spending cannot be made in coordination with a candidate, their committee, or the independent organization’s own political action committee.
Super PACs, known as independent expenditure committees in the Illinois Election Code, may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, according to Reform for Illinois, a campaign watchdog group. Those committees can spend unlimited amounts to oppose or support candidates and issues — but are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, according to the watchdog group.
Two independent expenditure committees made big plays in the first round of voting.
Fight Back for a Better Tomorrow, which was aligned with IUOE Local 150, spent $1.2 million on ads against mayoral candidate Bill Daley in the campaign’s waning days. The ads might have struck a chord — Daley unexpectedly came in third place, missing a shot at the runoff.
The Economic Freedom Alliance spent more than $200,000 on mail and a digital ad campaign against incumbent Ald. Tom Tunney in the 44th ward, but proved unsuccessful — the business owner won another outright.
The resurrected Chicago Forward spent heavily defending Emanuel and his allies in 2015. Even with Emanuel out of the race, it’s back, supplementing hundreds of thousands in contributions from the mayor and longtime allies Michael and Cari Sacks to allied aldermen as Emanuel’s tenure winds down.
Related: Chicago Forward PAC is back
The group received $59,000 in seed funding from another Emanuel-supporting political action committee, Progress Chicago, on Monday, followed by a $75,000 infusion on Tuesday. Emanuel and the Sacks have also been personally contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to allied aldermen and those in close races.
Ron Holmes, a spokesperson for Chicago Forward, said the political action committee had come back from the dead because there is “so much on the line for everyday Chicagoans” in the April 2 election.
“We’re confident that each of these candidates will fulfill Chicago Forward’s goals of creating high-quality school choices for families, safer neighborhoods, opportunities for businesses to grow and more good-paying jobs,” Holmes said in an emailed statement.
Although Chicago Forward’s new chair, Michael Forde, has fundraised for mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, the group will stay out of the mayoral race, Holmes said.
Instead, it will focus on television, digital, and mail in aldermanic races in the home stretch of the campaign, Holmes said.
The group has already disclosed nearly $50,000 in digital and television spending opposing Andre Vasquez in the 40th Ward, who is running against Emanuel’s floor leader Ald. Pat O’Connor, Matt Martin in the 47th Ward, who is challenging former Emanuel aide Michael Negron, 39th Ward candidate Samantha Nugent who is facing Robert Murphy and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), who voted more frequently with Emanuel as his second term progressed.
TFW you’re up twenty points and Rahm Emanuel’s Super PAC comes after you. pic.twitter.com/SSOA5zU3gW
— Matt Martin (@MattMartinChi) March 26, 2019
The INCS Action Independent Committee, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools’s political action committee, has taken in $1.45 million from Wheels, Inc. CEO Jim Frank and $1.7 million from Walmart heirs Alice and Jim Walton, according to the Illinois Sunshine database. The fund has more than $1.9 million on hand, according to the database.
Frank is also the chairman of the Intrinsic Network of Charter Schools, which operates a high school on the Northwest Side.
INCS has two funds active in the 2019 election — INCS Action PAC, which donates directly to campaigns, and the INCS Action Independent Committee, the Super PAC dedicated to independent expenditures.
INCS Action Independent Committee has spent more than $725,000 in the 2019 cycle so far on phone banking, mail, television and digital communications. INCS President Andrew Broy estimates independent expenditures alone will top $1 million by the end of the 2019 cycle.
After the general election, it celebrated helping “pave the way” for victories or runoffs for 11 of its 12 endorsed candidates — Ald. Joe Moore (49) was its only outright loss.
After dipping its toes in the 2015 race by spending in only two wards, the group plans to dive in fully in 2019.
“Stakes are high,” Broy said.
Neither of the two mayoral candidates — Toni Preckwinkle nor Lori Lightfoot — “could be deemed wholly supportive” of charter interests. Both have called for a charter freeze. Preckwinkle has the support of the Chicago Teachers Union, which is unionizing several charter networks citywide.
Charters depend heavily on the local aldermen to usher zoning changes through and to support for new locations with the Chicago Board of Education.
INCS has three different categories for races, Broy said — incumbent protects, incumbent persuades and replacements.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40) and Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) are in the “protect” category, and both are locked “in very tough races,” he said.
INCS is also looking to persuade voters to retain Education Committee Chairman Ald. Howard Brookins (21) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15).
Ads opposing Vasquez and Lopez challenger Chicago Police Officer Rafael “Rafa” Yañez make no mention of charter support.
Several Vasquez mailers quote rap lyrics from his time in the underground hip-hop scene, describing them as “homophobic,” “offensive,” “just wrong,” “shameful,” and glorifying the domestic abuse of women. Vasquez has apologized and added a “regarding attacks” section to his website with commitments to fight for women and the LGBTQ community.
The Yañez mailers highlight comments Yañez has made against the police academy and his history as an officer. He received four complaints, including two related to illegal search. The department found those complaints either not sustained, exonerated or unfounded and no action was taken, according to the Invisible Institute’s database of complaints. Yañez was not disciplined.
Broy acknowledged these issues do not relate to charter policy.
“I think we’re trying to influence the election,” Broy said. “We poll in these races, we look at what will move voters.”
In three other races, they are looking to flip or win open seats by electing Stephanie Coleman in the 16th Ward, Felix Cardona in the 31st Ward and Alex Acevedo in the 25th Ward.
Alds. Toni Foulkes and Milly Santiago are “bad on charters historically,” Broy said.
More than 100 canvassers will hit wards in three- or four-day shifts, Broy said.
The three “take out” race candidates are “almost all charter alums and charter parents who understand the power of a great public school,” Broy said, adding INCS will often microtarget charter households in those wards with canvassers or direct mail.
Among its questions for aldermen on this year’s endorsement questionnaire, INCS asked whether candidates would oppose future City Council resolutions on charter moratoriums.
Broy said his organization was preparing for big changes.
“Regardless of who wins, it looks like Lightfoot would win, we’re looking at weaker mayor vis-a-vis City Council,” Broy said. “We’re going to see some Council changes affecting that dynamic, that’s one big trend. Secondly, we’re fairly pragmatic in terms of what we’d like to see done by the City Council. We want to see progress made, high quality new options in schools built… we want centrists who will make the city work well for families.”
The INCS Action Independent Committee spent:
- Approximately $115,000 in the 31st Ward supporting Cardona and opposing one-term Ald. Santiago. While Cardona supports an elected school board and has sent all four of his children to Chicago Public Schools, he told the Sun-Times he is “a strong supporter of giving parents the options to take their children out of under performing schools and allowing them to use tax dollars to send them to better schools. It is a fundamental platform of my campaign. And I feel even better about that since charter school teachers are now allowed to unionize.”
- More than $110,000 defending Ald. Pat O’Connor (40) and opposing challenger Andre Vasquez. O’Connor said he does not “blindly” support charter schools, but will not turn away any good school that wants to move to the ward.
- More than $70,000 supporting Stephanie Coleman (16) and opposing incumbent Ald. Toni Foulkes (16). Coleman attended both private and public schools and pledged to “fight to make sure our youth receive the high level education they deserve.”
- Approximately $70,000 supporting Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) in his bid to hold on to his seat against Jessica Gutierrez.
- Approximately $70,000 supporting Ald. Joe Moore (49), who ultimately lost to challenger Maria Hadden.
- Approximately $60,000 supporting Alex Acevedo in the 25th Ward and opposing Byron Sigcho Lopez in the open race.
- $50,000 defending Ald. Emma Mitts (37) against Tara Stamps, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union. INCS helped Mitts in 2015 as well.
- Approximately $35,000 supporting Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) and opposing Rafael Yañez (15).
- More than $34,000 supporting Ald. Howard Brookins (21) in his bid against frequent competitor Marvin McNeil.
Real Estate Interests
The Illinois Realtors Fund — a state fund that operates with advice from Chicago members — has spent approximately $425,000 on aldermanic races this cycle, likely double what it has spent in past municipal elections, representatives said.
Its funding comes from the state, national and Chicago associations of Realtors and has roughly $725,000 on hand, according to the Illinois Sunshine database
The group opposes efforts to lift the statewide ban on rent control and a citywide proposal to increase the real estate transfer tax to pay for more affordable housing or services for the homeless, said Michael Scobey, the director of local advocacy for Illinois Realtors.
Preckwinkle supports lifting the ban on rent control, while Lightfoot has said there are other ways to address the city’s affordable housing shortage.
Realtors want city officials to allow property owners to turn garden units into affordable housing and to amend the city’s building requirements to “keep the costs down for new construction or renovation for housing that could be affordable.”
The group also supports state legislation from Rep. Sara Feigenholtz to provide a property tax incentive to owners of multi-family properties who have between 15 percent and 35 percent of units that are affordable.
Neither rent control nor a real estate transfer tax were prominent on mailers in aldermanic races, Scobey said.
The committee’s materials stick to “the issues that would be most salient or most interesting to voters in those wards,” he said. In most cases, that means mailers with positive messages and information about aldermen’s biographies.
Brian Bernardoni, the senior director of government affairs and public policy at the Chicago Association of Realtors, said the group is “looking for [aldermen] we can communicate with that weren’t going to hardline, that were open to conversations on those policy matters.”
Its 2019 aldermanic questionnaire is extensive.
While the Chicago Association of Realtors PAC and independent expenditure fund operate independently of each other, Bernardoni said “there’s a level of alignment of trying to make sure we were concerned – as many business groups were – on the rise of Democratic Socialists, progressive types who were very very clear about being anti-real estate, pro-rent control. When you start off a conversation that we’re the bad guy for no reason, we’ve got to do what we can. I think it’s reflected in our spending.”
Compared to 2015, Scobey estimates Realtors “might’ve even doubled” their independent expenditure spend this year.
“I think some of the issues that have come up, candidates that we’re not supporting who favor things like rent control, there’s more of them this time around, and who favor a really steep increase in the real estate transfer tax, more of them are challenging incumbents,” Scobey said. “Some even identify as Democratic Socialists.”
The Illinois Realtors Fund spent:
- More than $65,000 defending Ald. Pat O’Connor (40) and Ald. James Cappleman (46) each before and after the runoff election.
- More than $50,000 on mailers for Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) and supporting Stephanie Coleman in the 16th Ward.
- Between $30,000 and $35,000 supporting failed 4th Ward candidate Ebony Lucas, as well as Ald. Gregory Mitchell’s (7) successful re-election bid and for Ald. Raymond Lopez (15).
- Spent between $20,000 and $26,000 supporting Alex Acevedo in the 25th Ward, Ald. Deb Mell in the 33rd, Amanda Yu Dietrich in the 35th Ward and Samantha Nugent in the 39th Ward.