Auguest 8, 2012


"You can't beat somebody with nobody" used to be the eternal political refrain. Now it's "you can't beat somebody with lots of money unless you've got more."

Money cures the "nobody" problem, but incumbency means the money spigot never runs dry.

For incumbents, fund-raising is an exercise in psychology, with the goal being to "psych out" potential opposition by raising the bar. Money begets media ads and mailers and staffers and pollsters. For every dollar raised by an incumbent, a challenger, to be truly competitive, must raise at least two.

Hence, the best way to discourage competition and ensure re-election is to have an intimidating bundle of available campaign cash.

Adjoining this article is a 2010-12 fund-raising chart for selected politicians and political organizations, which range from the plentiful to the pitiful. The period covers July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2012.

Here, in no particular order, are some observations:

The Untouchable Mayor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised $14,456,462 over the past 2 years, all but $68,000 of that during the campaign period from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011. He got 326,331 votes, which equates to $44.02 per vote. In 2007 Mayor Rich Daley raised $6,879,708, then a city record, and got 324,519 votes, or $21.19 per vote. Emanuel's vote, which was 55 percent of the total cast, barely exceeded Daley's.

Unlike Daley, almost half of Emanuel's contributors were non-Chicagoans. This much is certain: Emanuel has $1,157,358 on hand, and he has the capability of raising another $10 million if needed. Who needs a precinct machine? Emanuel's financial juggernaut will keep him in City Hall as long as he likes.

*Cinderella for Governor in 2014? Based on fund-raising, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan would blow Governor Pat Quinn away in a Democratic primary. Madigan has $3,344,205 on hand, and having raised $2.4 million in the past 2 years, she can raise another $2.4 million by 2014. In addition, her father, Mike Madigan, the Illinois House Speaker and the state Democratic Party chairman who has raised $3.6 million for Democratic legislative candidates since 2010, can pump in another million or two.

Quinn has just $806,698 on hand, a dismal amount for a sitting governor, but in 2010 he raised $3 million, his union allies pumped another $10 million into television ads and mailers, and he won by 31,834 votes. Quinn seems determined to run for re-election, and he is shrewdly trying to box Michael Madigan into an anti-union position on state pension reform. Unions, however, will not risk backing a loser, and Quinn can only beat Lisa Madigan if the unions bankroll him.

According to Springfield sources, Lisa Madigan will not contest Quinn if Barack Obama is still president, figuring that voters will be in a very anti-Democratic mood by 2014 and that it would be astute to let a Republican beat Quinn and deal with the state's fiscal quagmire. Then she could run in 2018. If Mitt Romney wins in November, 2014 could be an anti-Republican year, and she likely would go for governor.

The Cook County Firewall. The only vulnerability for any county office holder is in the Democratic primary, and having a flush campaign account is the best deterrent.

In 2012 Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown raised $566,100, got solid black support, and beat reform-minded Ric Munoz with 65 percent of the vote in the primary. Two targets loom for 2014: County Assessor Joe Berrios, who won with 39 percent of the vote in 2010, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who won with 49 percent. Berrios has been blistered with charges of nepotism, and property tax assessments have not yet conformed to the decline of property values. There is an anger factor. Preckwinkle campaigned on a fiscal "reform" platform, but county spending is still out of control.

Berrios has raised $1.6 million since 2010 and has $482,811 on hand, while Preckwinkle has raised $1.9 million and has $593,459 on hand. Each will have more than $1 million by 2014. That's their firewall.

Note the unimpressive fund-raising performances of Sheriff Tom Dart and State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. Neither is in a position to run for any other office.

Not all Chicago aldermen are created equal. Ed Burke (14th) had an obscene $7.2 million on hand, while Ray Suarez (31st), from Berrios' ward, had $1.1 million and Gold Coaster Brendan Reilly (42nd) had $600,000. Those three guys own their wards lock, stock and barrel. No opposition will ever surface.

At the bottom of the proverbial on-hand barrel were Nick Sposato (36th) with $1,952, Mary O'Connor (41st) with $10,462, Joe Moore (49th) with $12,349, Proco Joe Moreno (1st) with $13,276 and John Arena (45th) with $17,685. Floating only slightly higher are Tim Cullerton (38th) with $29,386 and Scott Waguespack (32nd) with $25,539. That kind of cash reserve doesn't discourage 2015 opposition. Even the city's least-connected alderman, Ameya Pawar (47th), had more: $34,454.

"Lord Burke," who is the dean of the City Council and the chairman of the Finance Committee, runs his 85 percent Hispanic ward like a feudal monarchy. He rules from the manor, and everybody else is a serf. After raising $753,591 in 2011, Burke was unopposed for re-election, getting 5,907 votes in a ward with just 14,117 registered voters and a population of 60,000.

Other considerations matter: A vibrant commercial district, like Reilly's North Loop or Bob Fioretti's (2nd) South Loop, means a big cash haul. So do connections: Suarez feeds off Berrios' perceived clout. The North Side and Northwest Side aldermen do not have that pull. All will be vulnerable in 2015 to a big-spending foe.

In fact, two aldermanic races are under way: Sposato versus Cullerton in the new 38th Ward and Arena against 2011 loser John Garrido, whom he beat by 30 votes. Unions heavily funded both Cullerton and Arena in 2011, so their anemic cash-on-hand amounts are not a dire harbinger. They can expect that money again in 2015. Sposato has yet to get his fund-raising on track, and Garrido is still in debt to himself and his father for $47,000.

Arena has become prolific in scheduling fund-raisers, but, he acknowledges, "I spend the money as quickly as I receive it." Arena's bungled attempt to put a referendum for an elected school board on the November ballot drew a sarcastic blog posting from Alderman Moore, saying that it "evinces a lack of organization and planning."

Out of sight but not out of cash. You can't take your wealth to the grave, but you can take your campaign cash into retirement. Daley is sitting on $705,174. Former aldermen Bill Banks (36th) and Gene Schulter (47th) have $551,647 and $766,460, respectively. Former state senator Jim DeLeo, who was the Springfield go-to guy for Chicago's entertainment and food-service industry, still has $336,898. They can spend their slush fund as they see fit for donations to other politicians or for food and recreation with other politicians. Or they can put it in their pocket and pay taxes.

Springfield specialization matters. Champion an issue or work full-time at fund-raising and the money will cascade. State Representative Lou Lang (D-16) of Skokie has been the gambling/riverboat industry's cheerleader for a decade. He raised $849,751 and had $946,290 on hand. State Representative Skip Saviano (R-77) of Elmwood Park has assumed DeLeo's mantle. He raised $1,004,914 and had $325,486 on hand. Both are impregnable.

Compare that to colleagues like Ira Silverstein (D-8), Mike McAuliffe (R-20) and John D'Amico (D-15), who struggle to raise $75,000 to $100,000 a year. Nevertheless, all are secure.

Perhaps the most prodigious area fund-raisers are two Democratic workaholics who campaign 24/7: state Senator Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge and state Representative Dan Biss of Evanston, who is running for senator. Kotowski had $551,537 on hand, but she till faces a tough re-election race. Biss, who is the heir to Jan Schakowsky's congressional seat, had $368,366 on hand -- not bad for a 2-year incumbent.

The size of one's campaign account matters.