Labor Tops Giving to Chicago Council Candidates

Candidates for Chicago City Council have reported over $5M for the elections later this month (if you don't count the $6M uncontested 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke has sitting in his fund). What's interesting about that is where the funds came from. And how muchy is still sitting on the sidelines.

In the 2007 aldermanic races, the defining dynamic was the fight over Big Box ordinance between the labor unions, led by SEIU and AFSCME, and supporters of Mayor Daley, which took the shape of the First CD Victory PAC. Both sides in that election funded opposing candidates with different ideological views on the direction of the city.

This year the dynamic is different. Unions have still given a lot, and pledged to give more. And many are looking to For a Better Chicago (FaBC) as the successor to the First CD Victory PAC as the counter balance to the labor money. But it's not clear that all this giving is wholly oppositional in nature.

In 2011, AFSCME is the top donor to candidates for City Council, showing over $180K in contributions. SEIU is second, with $137K in combined giving from either the SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana PAC and the SEIU Illinois Council PAC. In third place is FaBC at $120K.

Those are substantial sums, but they pale beside what could be coming. SEIU, for instance, announced plans last November to spend upwards of $1M on the elections. Campaign finance reports suggest that the two main SEIU committees are already sitting on another half million, and they could raise more from other locals. AFSCME has $110K in cash at the moment, and they formed a new committee last week as a giving vehicle for the DC-based national union.

FaBC also has a tidy sum. They have reported raising $865K. Of that, they've disclosed the source of just $10K from investor David Herro - of the other $855K, the PAC is reporting only that the FaBC non-profit donated the funds to the FaBC PAC, leaving the public to speculate on the original source of the funds. FaBC PAC has a net pile of $745K, even if they don't raise another dime. Whether that's in reserve for the April run-offs, or for use in the February elections remains anyone's guess.

But what's also striking is how many candidates are reporting donations and endorsements from both FaBC and labor. Of the 12 candidates that have reported getting $10K from FaBC, 5 have also reported significant support from AFSCME and/or SEIU:

• Former State Rep. Deborah Graham, the appointed incumbent in the 29th Ward, shows $50K from AFSCME, along with her $10K from FaBC.
• JoAnn Thompson in16th shows $21K from AFSCME and $10K from FaBC.
• State Rep. Will Burns, the presumptive favorite to succeed Toni Preckwinkle in the 4th, shows $10K from SEIU, $5K from AFSCME, and $10K from FaBC.
• Willie Cochran, the 20th Ward incumbent, reports $5K from AFSCME alongside the $10K from FaBC.
• Tim Cullerton, recently appointed to succeed Tom Allen in the 38th, shows a raft of union money, including $2.5K from AFSCME, and $10K from FaBC.

Giving in these elections seems to be driven more by relationship building than by a real struggle for the vision of the city's future. Money from all three of the top donors appears to be going to candidates leading in the polls, rather than supporting new candidates with a sympathetic agenda. Time will tell if the pattern holds. But on-lookers hoping for another round of knock-down council elections may have to keep looking.