- Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
- Rahm Emanuel has turned on his national fundraising spigot to help him stay in office in Chicago.
On Tuesday—hours before the last prime-time mayoral debate—Rahm Emanuel released his latest TV commercial.
Like his previous campaign ads, it presents him as a man of the people of this diverse, proud, hardworking city: he’s shown shaking hands, laughing, listening, and visiting the offices and factories where people actually work for a living. “Every new job makes Chicago stronger,” the ad reminds us.
No one is against adding jobs. But most of the money that paid for the commercial—and for the rest of Emanuel’s multimillion-dollar reelection campaign—came from beyond the Chicago city limits.
Since the beginning of 2014, nearly 60 percent of the $7.5 million Emanuel has raised came from zip codes outside of Chicago, state records show.
And his donors aren’t just suburban residents who work or have investments in the city. More than a third of his haul came from beyond Illinois.
Altogether, Emanuel has raised $28 million for his mayoral fund since 2010—54 percent of it from outside Chicago.
The mayor has well-known ties to donor networks in Washington, where he served as a congressman and aide to two presidents; New York, where he’s advocated for the financial sector; and Hollywood, where his brother Ari is a powerful agent. So it’s no surprise that the top out-of-state source of Emanuel’s campaign money since he ran for mayor four years ago is the 90024 zip code in Los Angeles. It produced $835,000 in that time.
“Sometimes I wonder if it is Ari or Rahm that is running for mayor,” Michael Kolenc, a spokesman for mayoral challenger Robert Fioretti, wrote in an e-mail. “The amount of cash this mayor has raised is obscene.”
When money is rolling in, candidates generally like to point to it as a sign of how much backing they have. “Mayor Emanuel has extensive support for his reelection from both organized labor and the business community,” campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry told me a few weeks ago.
But as election day approaches, Emanuel has avoided talking about how flush his campaign is, probably because it doesn’t square with the image of a guy fighting for minimum wage workers and middle-class parents. Mayberry didn’t respond to my request for comment this week.
Still, the mayor doesn’t seem to find his money obscene—it’s allowed him to pay for TV ads, direct mail taking hits on his rivals, and a salaried staff that includes residents of Matteson, Blue Island, Buffalo Grove, Champaign, and Belleville as well as Chicago, state records show.
Emanuel’s challengers can claim that far more of their support comes from the city they want to lead. Nearly two-thirds of donations received since the start of 2014 by both Fioretti and county Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia came from Chicago—though Emanuel has raised five times as much as the two of them combined.
Businessman Willie Wilson received almost all of his campaign funds from Chicago. But that’s because he and his medical supply company kicked in more than $2 million, which is 98 percent of his total.
And 97 percent of what activist William “Dock” Walls brought in was from the city, though his donations only add up to $50,000.
Raising money to fight a powerful incumbent is a real challenge. Not only do most donors want to go with a winner, but many worry about the repercussions of being recorded as supporting someone else.
“People want to contribute to my campaign but they’re scared of retribution,” Fioretti said a few weeks ago.
The mayor doesn’t have such challenges. He’s reported raising $357,000 in the last week alone.