Illinois' new 13th Congressional District so far is ground zero among Illinois congressional districts for campaign spending by independent groups.
Federal Election Commission reports  show that more third-party money has been spent in the 13th District general election campaign than in any of the 18 other congressional districts in Illinois. Two groups — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the New Prosperity Foundation — have spent $140,198 on television advertising in the district. The money, which is not supposed to be coordinated with the congressional candidates, is being spent on behalf of Democrat David Gill and Republican Rodney Davis in the district that includes Champaign-Urbana, Decatur and Springfield.
Here is a link to FEC reports for Gill's campaign .
Here is a link to FEC reports for Davis' campaign .
The 8th Congressional District race between incumbent Republican Joe Walsh and Democrat Tammy Duckworth — in Chicago's northwest suburbs — is a close second with $137,757 in so-called independent expenditures.
The DCCC reported spending $79,675 to oppose Davis (and says it eventually will spend $230,000) while the New Prosperity Foundation already has spent $60,524 to oppose Gill. That's on top of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, that will be spent by the Davis and Gill campaigns.
Chris Mooney, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Springfield, said the heavy independent spending is a sign that the groups believe the race is close.
"Obviously the polling must indicate that things are close. That's how these things happen. It's not done randomly. They know what they're doing," said Mooney. "Their polling must indicate that this is not only a close race but that the (voters) are persuadable."
The New Prosperity Foundation, a pro-business group based in Chicago, is funded almost exclusively by Chicago area businessmen, most prominently Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest ($225,000) and David Herro of Chicago ($125,000). Uihlein is owner and CEO of Uline, a shipping materials company. Herro is chief investment officer at Harris Associates in Chicago. Among other prominent New Prosperity donors are former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Gidwitz of Chicago and Sam Zell, the Chicago businessman who drove the Chicago Tribune into seeking bankruptcy protection.
New Prosperity is involved in six Illinois congressional elections this fall, siding with Republicans in every race.
Both Davis and Gill last week bemoaned the so-called "attack ads" but did not renounce the ones running on their behalf.
Meanwhile, Gill said he has begun a $50,000 radio advertising campaign on more than 20 stations in the district. The ad, paid for by the Gill campaign, asks, "Does it seem like Congress is for sale to the highest bidder?"
The 60-second spot does not mention Davis by name but says that Gill has "never been on a public payroll or taken orders from a politician." Davis had worked at the Illinois secretary of state's office and for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.
The radio ad also notes that Gill "doesn't take a penny from Wall Street lobbyists or corporate PACs," although it neglects to point out that Gill does take money from the DCCC, which is supported by those same Wall Street lobbyists and corporate PACs. Gill had even expressed displeasure over the DCCC's use of "corporate funding" earlier this year.
AFSCME endorsements. AFSCME Council 31, which represents thousands of university, state, county and city employees in Champaign County, has endorsed every Republican in the four countywide contested races this fall.
But the union is backing Democrats in two local legislative races and in most county board contests.
The support for the four countywide candidates — John Farney for auditor, Katie Blakeman for circuit clerk, Gordy Hulten for county clerk and Barb Frasca for county recorder — is unusual but not unprecedented, said Tara McCauley, a staff representative with AFSCME.
"It's not unheard of for the union to endorse Republicans. It's true that oftentimes there are more Democrats on our endorsement list than Republicans, but we regularly endorse a lot of Republicans," said McCauley. She said she did not know, though, if the public-employee union had ever endorsed four countywide candidates in Champaign County.
The endorsements "most likely" will mean campaign donations and volunteer help for candidates, McCauley said.
Some of the endorsements were expected; Farney recently stepped down as a union official, and Hulten and Frasca have "great relationships" with their employees, according to McCauley.
The support for Blakeman, who is running against former county board chair Barbara Wysocki, is a different story.
"We interviewed both candidates and we just feel that Katie is the better candidate. We think she'll be a better employer," McCauley said.
She said the union "didn't have a great relationship with" Wysocki when she was county board chair.
"Several issues came up over time for county workers with regards to negotiations where we felt that Wysocki wasn't supportive on the issues, or at least not supportive enough," McCauley said. "And Katie was very clear that she wanted to have a very good relationship with her employees and wanted to get their input on how the office should be run."
The union is supporting state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, for re-election, but is staying out of the 104th House District contest between incumbent state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, and Democrat Michael Langendorf of Urbana.
As for the county board, AFSCME endorsed Republican Jim McGuire (an AFSCME union officer at the University of Illinois) in District 4, but 11 Democrats in other races. It is supporting Brad Diel and Tracy Luchik in District 5, Pattsie Petrie in District 6, Alan Kurtz and Rachel Schwartz in District 7, Giraldo Rosales and Michael Richards in District 8, Astrid Berkson and Ralph Langenheim in District 9, and Lorraine Cowart and Lloyd Carter in District 11.
The union is not backing Democrats Chris Alix and James Quisenberry is District 10, she said, because they had supported a plan, since dropped, to have a referendum this fall on possibly selling the county nursing home, where about 200 AFSCME members are employed.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears in print on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com