Paul Vallas outspent Brandon Johnson nearly 2-to-1 in losing mayoral bid

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas outspent Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson by a nearly 2-to-1 margin leading up to Vallas losing in April in the race to become Chicago’s next mayor.

Vallas raised $18 million and spent nearly $17 million of it en route to a 52% to 48% loss to Johnson, according to recently filed state campaign finance records. Much of the money Vallas raised came from business leaders and private equity investors, many of whom have also contributed to Republican candidates across the country. Vallas ended the first quarter of 2023 with $1.7 million on hand, the campaign records show.

Johnson, meanwhile, raised $8.6 million and spent $9.3 million, with most of his money coming from progressive labor groups tied to the Chicago Teachers Union or the Service Employees International Union. Having started the year with $1.3 million in the bank, Johnson ended March with $575,000 cash on hand.

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Johnson spent more than $4.8 million on television ads and another $944,000-plus on digital ads in his upstart win over Vallas, who spent more than $7.6 million on TV ads.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot raised $2.3 million and spent $3.6 million in her losing bid for reelection. Having begun the year with $1.4 million in the bank, she ended the quarter with nearly $97,000, while U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia raised $2.5 million and spent $3.8 million, ending the quarter with about $31,000 on hand after beginning the year with $1.3 million in the bank.

Johnson’s donations from CTU drew some pushback from union members. A few days before the election, around 30 CTU members filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, seeking to stop any further contributions. The union said the complaint was frivolous and the board dismissed the complaint on Friday. The propriety of the donations concerns “internal union matters” rather than any violation of the CTU’s duties under state law, the board found.

While Vallas’ ad buys were the largest, all the candidates spent big on expensive television advertising aimed at raising their profiles and denigrating their opponents. Before she was knocked out in the first round, Lightfoot largely focused on rehabilitating her own image with voters and running negative ads against Garcia.

Businessman Willie Wilson raised about $14,000 and spent more than $4 million. He largely self-funded his campaign and closed the account in March, records show.

In addition to spending on advertisements, the candidates also spent money on consultants and surrogates who delivered their message on the campaign trail.

Wilson paid flamboyant former state Sen. Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon about $56,000 for consulting. Lightfoot paid $8,000 to Wallace “Gator” Bradley, a political consultant known for wearing shirts with candidates’ faces on them and shouting “you better listen!” at news conferences. Vallas paid Keith Thornton, a former city 911 dispatcher who became well-known for his criticism of Lightfoot, about $18,000.

Vallas also paid $500,000 to Ikoro LLC, a company state records show is run by Chimaobi Enyia, a former Pat Quinn staffer who Vallas hoped to have at a high level in his administration if he won. Only $20,000 of that money was for consulting while the Vallas campaign reported $480,000 in payments was “disputed.”

Also, the Vallas campaign paid Ikoro LLC $500,000 during the quarter. Of that, $20,000 was for consulting, and the other $480,000 has the notation “Disputed – not verified.” According to state records, Ikoro LLC is owned by Chima Enyia, the former executive director of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

Vallas’ campaign also contributed nearly $315,000 to aldermen or their allies who endorsed him, the campaign records show. Most of the contributions were made to ward organizations that have historically paid precinct workers or galvanized volunteers to get out the vote.

The Vallas for Mayor campaign contributed about $68,000 to the ward organization run by Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, his former mayoral rival who endorsed Vallas during the runoff. Vallas’ campaign also gave between $15,000 and $30,000 each to ward organizations run by Aldermen Michelle Harris, 8th, Anthony Beale, 9th, Raymond Lopez, 15th, David Moore, 17th, Derrick Curtis, 18th, and Emma Mitts, 37th.

Vallas also contributed $60,000 to 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn’s campaign committee. Quinn has been a close ally of former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and the two have benefited from one of the city’s most vaunted ward organizations. Vallas also gave $60,000 to Prentice Butler’s campaign committee for 4th Ward alderman. Butler is the outgoing chief of staff for Ald. Sophia King, who endorsed Vallas after losing in the first round of the mayor’s race. Butler lost his runoff election to state Rep. Lamont Robinson.

In the April runoff, Vallas lost to Johnson in all the wards where he helped the aldermen or allies except for the 13th and 15th Wards.

Outside groups spent roughly $5.3 million on mayoral and aldermanic races since January, according to the state reports. Nearly $1.7 million was spent directly opposing Johnson.

Priorities Chicago PAC — a political action committee established shortly after the first round of the election was completed at the end of February and largely funded by dark money donors — spent $736,000 on television ads opposing Johnson. The group received nearly all of the $890,000 it raised from two groups whose donors were unclear: an entity involved in the first wave of the mayoral election, Better Chicago Future Inc., and from Priorities Chicago, which shares the same Chicago-based address as the PAC.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools’ super PAC raised $1.31 million and spent $1.23 million during the first quarter of the year, according to state records. That included spending $722,000 on mail, digital and cable ads opposing Johnson and another $24,000 supporting Vallas. The right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute’s PAC also spent $48,000 on phone operations opposing Johnson.

The Illinois Federation for Children PAC, which was founded by former President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, raised $75,000 and spent $79,000 in the quarter — $60,000 of that went to digital media supporting Vallas.

The super PAC set up to help Lightfoot, The 77 Committee, reported raising just $157,500 between January and March and spent $141,000 on mail and digital ads opposing Johnson and Wilson in the campaign’s first round. The group spent roughly $42,000 on mailers supporting Lightfoot.

A super PAC called Americans for a Safer and Better Tomorrow also reported spending $35,000 on texts and digital ads opposing Lightfoot. The group’s sole donor is a not-for-profit with the same name and address as the PAC: a ground-level apartment in Lincoln Park.

In aldermanic races, outside groups also spent heavily.

In addition to the charter schools super PAC, another super PAC funded by state and national realtors groups, the Illinois REALTORS Fund, was heavily involved in aldermanic elections. Another super PAC active in the races was the Get Stuff Done PAC, which was led by an adviser to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and funded by business allies. It sought to elect “pragmatists” to the City Council.

In the 36th Ward, those three groups spent nearly $245,000 helping incumbent Ald. Gilbert Villegas retain his seat against CTU-backed challenger Lori Torres Whitt. Torres Whitt spent just $160,000 in the same span. Villegas spent more than $480,000.

In the 46th Ward, those three groups spent $345,000 supporting Kim Walz in the heated race to succeed retiring Ald. James Cappleman. Walz, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley who works in intergovernmental affairs for Walgreens, spent roughly $214,000 but ultimately lost to housing organizer Angela Clay, who spent $244,000, according to her quarterly report.

The three groups also spent $215,000 to help Ald. Monique Scott, 24th, hold the seat she was appointed to by Lightfoot. Scott handily defeated challenger Creative Scott in the runoff.

In the 25th Ward, Get Stuff Done spent nearly $230,000 since the start of the year helping Aida Flores, the challenger to incumbent Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez. Sigcho-Lopez has been one of the most outspoken progressives on the City Council and is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Sigcho-Lopez reported spending more than $263,000 in the most recent quarter, defeating Flores, who reported spending $168,000.

Get Stuff Done and Realtors also spent $217,000 supporting incumbent 11th Ward Ald. Nicole Lee. She reported spending less than $4,000 in the most recent quarter and raised roughly $250,000. Her challenger, Anthony Ciaravino, had not yet filed his latest quarterly report as of Tuesday. Records indicate he raised $125,000.

In the 48th Ward race to succeed retiring Ald. Harry Osterman, the Realtors and Get Stuff Done spent nearly $250,000 since the start of the year. Get Stuff Done spent nearly $160,000 against Nick Ward, who lost after the first round of voting. Get Stuff Done and the Realtors also spent nearly $90,000 supporting affordable housing developer Joe Dunne, who lost to small business owner Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, who reported raising $100,000 in the most recent quarter and spending $103,000.

Chicago Tribune’s Sarah Macaraeg contributed.

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April 19, 2023 at 05:48AM

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