If you’re not paying extra close attention to the Chicago mayor’s race, you might not know the name William Kelly.
If you pay any attention at all to political gadflies who like to draw attention to themselves, however, then William Kelly is probably right up your alley.
A Republican, Kelly is one of a handful of little-known candidates for Chicago mayor in 2015. He recently made news by donating $100,000 of his own money to his campaign, effectively lifting the cap on the amount of donations any candidate in the race can receive at any one time.
Kelly says he did it to “level the playing field” in the mayor’s race, meaning his move will somehow allow opponents of Rahm Emanuel a leg up on matching the mayor’s considerable fundraising prowess.
Don’t believe it. By any measure, Kelly’s move is unlikely to alter the race in any substantial way, regardless of how much any given candidate raises in campaign contributions.
That hasn't stopped him from earning a day’s attention in the Chicago media news cycle, however. In fact, Kelly has made something of a name for himself pulling media-oriented stunts designed to get his name in the spotlight.
His history of befriending noted conservative figures in Illinois and Chicago politics only to turn on them later is well-known.
He likes to accuse mainstream media outlets of conspiracies in supporting his political opponents, such as Rahm Emanuel.
A few years ago, he nearly got into a fistfight with political reporter Jay Levine as Kelly tried to sandbag then-candidate Emanuel during a street interview. That one earned him a day in court, where a judge found his claim Levine threatened him unfounded.
Kelly is touting his latest move something of a game-changer in the 2015 mayor’s race. Illinois election law says once a candidate self-funds to the tune of $100,000, other donation limits are no longer valid. Theoretically that means any campaign donor wanting to write some candidate a really, really big check is now free to do so.
Yet Kelly’s logic doesn’t make sense on its face. In an announcement accompanying his donation, he argued by lifting the cap, “any donor or corporation or PAC that wants to defeat Rahm Emanuel [now has] the opportunity to donate to my campaign without limitation.”
Besides the unlikely notion that any major funder was simply waiting in the wings to give Kelly a massive check but was held up by election law, implicit in his argument is the idea that any donor who wanted to offer funds beyond the previous caps couldn’t find some other way to do so.
If that was the case, how did Rahm Emanuel already raise more than $8 million from only a relative handful of wealthy friends?
Actually, donors looking to support any of Emanuel’s other opponents, such as Ald. Bob Fioretti, are already making decisions about how much they’re willing to offer in support. If the amount under consideration was more than previous cap allowed, big-ticket donors such as unions or wealthy individuals had other ways to support their candidate, such as bundling, building a super PAC and more.
As well, it simply doesn't take $8 million to defeat Rahm Emanuel. Candidates such as Fioretti didn't get into the race on the hope that it would only take a few donors writing $1 million checks to their campaign to win. Instead, for a more grassroots campaign such as Fioretti’s or Amara Enyia’s, reality dictated that a strategy would have to be developed relying on smaller, individual donations coupled with a more modest amount of institutional donors, such as unions.
Some progressives and political opponents of the mayor worry this means Emanuel can now really start to ramp up his fundraising, blowing his challengers even farther out of the water. The truth is, there’s only so many checks for $100,000 or more that get written in a mayoral campaign. And, chances are, Rahm Emanuel already had all of those locked up.
Besides, if Emanuel had felt at any time he was being hamstrung by election law, all he had to do was drop $100,000 of his considerable personal wealth into his war chest, and the issue would have already become moot.
So William Kelly can crow all he wants that he’s somehow a power player in the 2015 race. And if reporters want to cover his claims, all the more power to them.
Chances are, however, is that all William Kelly did was spend $100,000 of his own money to buy a day’s worth of the media spotlight.