Credit: Photo by William Camargo

With days left before the most consequential Chicago municipal elections in a generation, most of the attention is still on the top of the ballot and the 14 people vying for the mayor’s office.

While mayoral candidates have been scrutinized for the money they’ve received — whether from embattled Ald. Ed Burke, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, or rapper Kanye West — much less attention has been paid to where City Council candidates are getting financial support.

Aldermanic candidates have raised more money  — close to $40 millionthan those running for mayor, according to a Reporter analysis of state campaign finance data. And much of it is coming from just a handful of powerful politicians, unions and business owners.

Here’s what you should know about the money powering the down-ballot races:

Pritzker and Emanuel are spreading the love

Governor J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have, combined, pumped nearly $1 million from their own campaign funds into the City Council races, mostly on the side of incumbent aldermen allied with the mayor. That makes them two of the largest campaign contributors overall to aldermanic candidates.

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Emanuel rewarded 25 of his council allies with $20,000 each (then kicked in an extra $10,000 each to Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th)), while Pritzker has sent more than $450,000 to 23 candidates. The lists overlap but are not exactly the same.

The majority of Pritzker’s money has gone to members of the City Council’s Black Caucus. The governor has donated to every member of the aldermanic black caucus aside from Ald. Gregory Mitchell (7th), Ald. Sophia King (4th) and Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th). In fact, Pritzker has supported Foulkes’ challenger in the 16th ward, Stephanie Coleman, to whom he has donated $17,500.

Quentin Fulks, deputy campaign manager for JB Pritzker’s campaign, said the governor is “not supporting anyone in the mayoral or aldermanic races.” He said all the money was donated “during the [gubernatorial] campaign for the purpose of building an extensive ground game.”

Emanuel, meanwhile, has donated to many of the same aldermen, but has also given money to North Side allies, including aldermen Brian Hopkins, Debra Silverstein, James Cappleman, Joe Moore, Nicholas Sposato, Patrick O’Connor, and Tom Tunney.

In open races, Emanuel is supporting Michael Negron for the 47th ward and Pritzker has donated to committees supporting Kevin Bailey in the 20th ward and Michael Rodriguez in the 22nd.

Unions are the name of the game

Aside from politicians like Pritzker and Emanuel, many of the largest donors in the aldermanic races are unions, which make up almost half of the 20 largest donors to City Council candidates. The top ten unions alone have contributed more than $2.5 million to City Council candidates.

Your one-stop shop election guide

You can view a breakdown of how much money each candidate in the Chicago municipal election has raised and more at Chi.vote, our one-stop shop election guide.

Those top union donors have spent most heavily on Silvana Tabares, the former state representative who was appointed 23rd ward alderman by Emanuel last June, who is running for her first full term. She’s received more than $400,000 from these unions, most of that coming from trade unions, including $110,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $103,900 from LiUNA Chicago Laborers’ District Council, and $75,800 from Chicagoland Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC. She’s also received nearly $57,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. While all of that money came while she was still a state legislator, much of it appears to still be in her campaign account. According to Illinois Sunshine, Tabares has more than $483,000 cash on hand.

The Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union have thrown their support behind Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th). She has received more than $134,000 from CTU and another $39,000 from SEIU Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare.

Of all the unions, CTU has spent the most to back challengers — more than $130,000 — including Erika Wozniak Francis, a teacher and one of several candidates challenging Ald. James Cappleman in the 46th ward; Rossana Rodríguez Sánchez, challenging Ald. Deb Mell in the 33rd ward, and Rafael “Rafa” Yana, challenging Ald. Raymond Lopez in the 15th ward.

Chicagoland Operators, LiUNA and the AFSCME, on the other hand, have spent nearly all their money backing incumbent aldermen.

Businesses and businessmen

Aldermanic candidates don’t get the kinds of six-figure donations from a single donor that some mayoral candidates have, but there are still a few prominent businessmen that have donated $100,000 or more overall.

Richard Melman, founder and chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and his company have donated $172,000 to a handful of alderman in whose wards he has restaurants, including Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). He’s also given more than $10,000 to funds controlled by Ald. Ed Burke, even though the 14th ward does not have any Lettuce Entertain You restaurants.

Benchmark Construction Co., a city contractor that once was accused of pretending it was run by an African-American to get preferential treatment in city contracts, has donated more than $130,000 to 17 sitting aldermen. More than one-third of that, $50,000, came in a single donation to Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairwoman of the council’s budget committee, in November.

Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, and his wife Cari, who are longtime supporters of Emanuel, have donated nearly $150,000 to 14 incumbent aldermen and one non-incumbent, Michael Negron, running in the open 47th ward. The Sackses have donated $11,200 each to Hopkins and Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), both of whom are unopposed.

Daley & Georges, the law firm founded by Richard J. Daley in 1936 and currently run by his son Michael Daley, has donated more than $106,000 total to more than two-thirds of the current City Council. Most of that is in relatively small amounts of $500 to $5,000, but the Daley firm has donated more than $23,000 to Ald. Ed Burke and $9,000 to Ald. Brendan Reilly.

Other large companies that have thrown significant money to aldermen and aldermanic candidates include Comcast (more than $173,000) and Peoples Gas (about $94,000), which means your cable and utility bills may be going to support your alderman.

The self-funded and the unopposed

Several challengers have also poured significant money into their own campaigns, typically as loans. Healthcare entrepreneur Theresa Siaw, who is challenging Ald. Roberto Maldonado in the 26th ward, has loaned herself $416,000, making her the fifth largest donor in this year’s aldermanic elections. Austin Baidas, a former Pat Quinn and Barack Obama staffer who is challenging Ald. Tom Tunney in the 44th ward, loaned himself $200,000, and Jacob Ringer, running against Ald. Michele Smith in the crowded 43rd ward race, has loaned his campaign $90,000.

Incumbents Brendan Reilly and Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) have loaned their campaigns $100,000 and $92,500, respectively.

Reilly has raised more money than any other aldermanic candidate aside from powerbroker Ed Burke, despite the fact that he is running unopposed (or perhaps his sizeable war chest warded off any potential challengers). He’s raised more than $3 million since the 2015 election, more than all but the two top mayoral contenders — Bill Daley and Toni Preckwinkle. More than $260,000 of that has come since the filing deadline, when it became clear he would not face a challenger.

Top donors to Reilly’s campaign fund and the 42nd Ward Democratic Committee he controls (aside from himself) include Richard Melman, who has donated more than $111,000; Alliance of Illinois Taxpayers, a PAC that counts as donors several local law firms and Ed Burke, which has given $42,500; and the National Association of Realtors, which has given $38,000.

Incumbents versus challengers

It is vastly easier for an incumbent to raise money than his or her challenger. This is in part because they have had a much longer period of time to do so, but also because many aldermen also control their wards’ committees or other PACs, which allow them to raise more money.

In competitive races where an incumbent is running for re-election, the sitting alderman has raised, on average, $6 for every $1 raised by all of his or her challengers combined.

The only race where an incumbent has been outraised by a challenger is in the 30th ward. Jessica Washington Gutierrez, daughter of recently-retired Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, has raised $326,000, compared to $246,000 by the incumbent, Ariel Reboyras.

The most lopsided race is the 27th ward, where Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. has outraised his opponent 155-to-1, bringing in more than $1.3 million compared to just $8,410 for his challenger, Cynthia Bednarz. (That doesn’t include small-dollar donations, which won’t be reported until after the election.)

How we did it

The Reporter analyzed campaign finance data from the Illinois State Board of Elections. We looked at all contributions reported by current aldermanic candidates between May 18, 2015, the day the current City Council was sworn in, and February 18, 2019. The analysis includes large donations the Illinois State Board of Elections requires candidates report leading up to election day. Donations under $1,000 aren’t counted until the end of the quarter ending March 31.

Many candidates, especially sitting aldermen, control not just a single campaign fund but also related committees, such as ward organization committees and political action committees (PACs). These committees can be used to pay ward staff, but they are also often used to support the candidates and their allies, and they sometimes collect far more money than the campaign committees, so we included them in our analysis. However, that also means that we may be counting money that was spent on previous campaigns.

The data collected and distributed by the board of elections is self-reported by campaigns, so donor names can often be written dozens of different ways. We used dedupe.io, software developed by the Chicago-based technology company DataMade, to match donors based on commonalities in names, addresses, and reported occupations. Matches were then reviewed by hand to verify accuracy and completeness, though with more than 39,000 individual contributions, it’s possible some matches were missed. Any additional contributions matched to the donors cited in this story would add to their totals.

Still have questions or comments? Reach out to reporter Jonah Newman or find us on twitter @jonahshai and @chicagoreporter or on Facebook.

Jonah Newman

Jonah is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email him at jnewman@chicagoreporter.com and follow him on Twitter @jonahshai.

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