Tom Kacich: Johnson raised millions during career

The web site OpenSecrets.org has an interesting analysis of the career fundraising by retired U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, and other recent congressional retirees.

Johnson — who claimed a great displeasure with asking for campaign money and because he had a conservative district had to do relatively little of it — raised $4.5 million during his congressional career, which began with a primary election race in 2000.

Forty-five percent of that money, or about $2 million, came from political action committees. Another $1.88 million was from individual donors. Most of the rest was from Johnson himself.

By industry, the top five donors during his congressional career were: congressional leadership PACs, $209,875; law firms; building trade unions; agricultural products and services; and real estate interests. His biggest contributor was the American Association for Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which gave him nearly $62,000 over his career. Other big contributors were: Exelon, $53,000; AT&T, $45,000; the Operating Engineers Union, $42,000; and the National Beer Wholesalers Association, $41,000.

By geography, Johnson's top three donor areas were in Illinois: Champaign-Urbana, $478,169; Chicago, $140,633; and Bloomington-Normal, $72,593. His top ZIP code for donations was 61821 (Champaign) with $160,350, followed by 61820 (Champaign) with $80,790.

The fundraising by newly retired U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale, makes for an interesting comparison.

Biggert served one more term in Congress than Johnson, but represented a district that also had a strong Republican base (in 2010, for example, Johnson was re-elected with 64.3 percent and Biggert got 63.8 percent).

During her time in Congress, Biggert raised $9.8 million — more than twice Johnson's total. Forty-eight percent, or $4.7 million, was from PACs and $4.6 million was from individuals.

By industry, her top five donor groups were: insurance companies, $684,901; securities and investment groups; retirees; real estate and commercial banks. Her biggest contributor was Molex Inc. ($80,600), a manufacturer in her district.

By geography, Chicago donors ($3.2 million) were her biggest source of money, followed by Washington; Naples, Fla.; San Francisco; and Springfield. Biggert's top ZIP code also was her hometown, 60521 (Hinsdale) with $1.3 million.

Frerichs' future. He's not saying anything, but don't be surprised if state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, takes a look at the 2014 race for state treasurer. The current treasurer, Dan Rutherford, plans to run for governor, which clears the way for people in both parties to look at the office.

Frerichs, a former county auditor, has said several times he isn't interested in running for the U.S. House but doesn't issue the same denial when it comes to a statewide office.

2014 would be an ideal time for him to run for treasurer. Although he hasn't filed an updated campaign disclosure form, his Sept. 30 report showed he had nearly $375,000 on hand (Rutherford, by comparison, had about $477,000) and Frerichs has added several thousand since, including nearly $13,000 in November and December. That's despite the fact that he won't run for re-election to the Senate until 2016.

That's another advantage for Frerichs. He can run for treasurer in 2014, but if he loses, he can still return to the Senate. Bill Brady, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate, did that after losing to Gov. Pat Quinn. Brady, who is interested in another gubernatorial attempt next year, could repeat the process. His Senate term also runs until 2016.

Righter's future. Sen. Dale Righter, by contrast, appears to be winding down his Senate career.

The No. 2 Republican in the Illinois Senate announced last week that he no longer wants to be in the Senate leadership and wants to spend less time in Springfield and more time in Mattoon.

Righter, 46, is divorced and has two teenage sons at home.

"My youngest will leave for college in about a year and a half from now, and I'm not going to get that time back," he said last week. "I've enjoyed my time in leadership, in both the political and the policy parts of it, but it's been time-consuming and now is the right time for me to step back, still serve my constituents as fully as I ever have. But the extra stuff? I'd rather spend that back home."

Righter also said he is "kinda reinvesting in my (Charleston) law practice too, but that's a secondary consideration."

Asked if he is preparing to leave the Senate, where the Republican caucus is at an all-time low (19 of 59 members), Righter was less than persuasive.

"No, it doesn't have anything to do with that. This is about a change right now for the next couple of years. For me, a change in the balance between this life and my family life," he said.

Asked if he thought he would finish his term, which expires in 2016, he said, "You never know what tomorrow will bring."

Righter, a sharp and incisive debater, will be replaced as Republican deputy minority leader by Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine.

Senate membership. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, got some laughs on inauguration day last week when he noted the diversity in the Senate (although only 15 of 59 members are women).

"Today the Illinois Senate is more diverse than ever before. Think about it. We have in this chamber lawyers (among them Cullerton, Righter and local Sens. Chapin Rose and Jason Barickman) and linebackers (South Holland Democrat Napoleon Harris, who played at Northwestern and in the NFL), accountants (Chicago Democrat John Mulroe) and TV anchors (Rockford Democrat Steve Stadelman), farmers (Democrats Gary Forby and John Sullivan) and former staff (Bunker Hill Democrat Andy Manar), people who make ice cream (Sugar Grove Republican Jim Oberweis) and people who are lactose intolerant. And of course we have cousins (Cullerton and Villa Park Democrat Tom Cullerton)."

Cullerton also told Republicans not to be discouraged by their overwhelming minority status.

"Given our challenges, your help and input are critical," he told the 19 Republicans. "Now keep in mind that I served in the political minority for a decade under the leadership of Senate President Pate Philip. So in the words of President Bill Clinton, 'I feel your pain.'

"And yet during those 10 years, I was the chief sponsor of 59 bills that became law, including some that I consider among the most important pieces of legislation that I have worked on."

The experience, he said, "taught me how important it is to know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and the importance of compromise. I'll also remind you that a state senator by the name of Barack Obama spent most of his time here in the political minority and he too worked to find opportunities for agreement with his political rivals. Working across the aisle didn't hurt his political career."

Rose, a Republican, said he hoped to get things done in the Senate, despite being outnumbered.

"I'm kinda used to being in the mode of working across the aisle," he said. "I've spent 10 years in the minority and got a heckuva lot done back home as a member of the minority."

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at tkacich@news-gazette.com.

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