September 23, 2012
So far, almost all of Chicago's top Democratic donors have abstained from giving to Priorities USA Action, the leading super PAC supporting President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
According to records released late Thursday, only a half-dozen or so Chicago-area residents have contributed more than a few thousand dollars to the political action committee.
They are media-outlet owner Fred Eychaner ($1.5 million); investment manager Michael Sacks ($250,000); advertising executive Dale Taylor and his wife, Angela Lustig ($100,000); Ariel Investments CEO John Rogers ($100,000); and entrepreneur Robert Roche ($100,000). Roche has lived in Asia for decades but grew up in the Chicago suburbs and lists a local address on campaign records.
So where is everybody else?
It's likely they haven't been asked.
"We went out and found out who the person coordinating the super PAC was," said Taylor, the co-founder of health care ad agency AbelsonTaylor. "We just called them. We weren't solicited."
Taylor said he and his wife were motivated by "the tremendous amount of money" being funneled into Republican super PACs and felt "there needed to be some match" to it.
"The Obama side at the beginning kind of resisted the idea of super PACs," said lawyer Newton Minow, an early friend and mentor to Obama. "They didn't get started on it till much later. No. 2, I don't think most Democratic supporters are used to this kind of money being used in campaigns. It's a big cultural change. ... But that the Obama people didn't like it and didn't push it is probably the main reason."
Bill Burton, a former deputy press secretary for Obama and a founder of Priorities USA, said the organization was "proud to have the support we have in Chicago" and that "people are now paying closer attention" to the super PAC as the campaign enters its final leg.
Democrats are lagging far behind. The pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has raised a total of $96.6 million through the end of August, while Priorities USA Action has raised $35.6 million. These lopsided totals omit the activities of Republican strategist Karl Rove's super PAC American Crossroads.
Yet for the first time, in August, Priorities USA's haul exceeded Restore Our Future's.
Enter Rahm Emanuel. The Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff was reportedly brought into the super PAC to "cajole wealthy donors into giving more money, amid growing concern that a widening Republican financial advantage could doom President Obama and other Democratic candidates," the Washington Post first reported.
Emanuel shifted to helping the super PAC in late August. Then he put politics of any sort on hiatus during the recent teachers strike. Now he has re-engaged in the presidential fundraising effort, Thomas Bowen, the executive director of the mayor's campaign fund, The Chicago Committee, said Friday.
Records filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission only capture donations made to Priorities USA before Sept. 1. So it's too soon to tell if Emanuel's involvement has turbocharged the super PAC, as one Democratic consultant predicted in the Post.
Records, however, show that on Aug. 30, one of Emanuel's top advisers, Grosvenor Capital Management CEO Michael Sacks, made a $250,000 donation to the super PAC.
"I don't know why Illinois didn't get off to a faster start," Rogers said. "But I do believe that with Rahm's leadership and energy, he's going to bring in a lot of significant donors. And I also believe that people have so much respect for Michael Sacks that his gift will be a motivator."
It would appear a Chicago push is on.
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