Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Can Rahm Emanuel's Money Buy Chicago's Love?

The expert fundraiser boasts an intimidatingly large political war chest

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    NEWSLETTERS

    When it comes to fundraising, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sprints circles around political rivals and shoves the competition out of the race by sheer force of his Rolodex of mega-rich moguls, Washington insiders and Hollywood wheeler-dealers.

    Case in point: the Chicago boss -- up for re-election in 2015 -- has wrangled the star power of none other than Bill Clinton for a guest appearance at a splashy downtown fundraiser next month.

    Touted as "An Evening with President Clinton and Mayor Emanuel," the event -- hosted by Chicago for Rahm Emanuel -- will be held June 20 at the nightclub Studio Paris and will feature an unnamed "musical guest." The cover charge is steep: for $250, you'll get in the door; for $1,000, you'll get a seat; for $5,300, you'll get sponsor status and access to a VIP reception; for $10,600, you'll get host credentials plus the chance to rub shoulders with two Democratic big dogs; for $25,000, you'll get a "chair" title and greater odds of receiving a friendly F-bomb from Emanuel, or a wink courtesy of Clinton.

    (Think of all the name-dropping and humble-bragging you'll do later! If you want to keep your friends, however, it is best not to open any sentence with "Bill told me .. .")

    The Emanuel-Clinton bash -- details for which hit email inboxes Monday night -- sends potential mayoral challengers the message (or the threat?) that entering into battle with the former White House Chief of Staff will most certainly end in defeat. After all, how could anyone compete with that kind of fundraising power?

    Over the course of his long career in politics and finance, Emanuel -- who made $16 million in two years as an investment banker following his stint as a senior advisor in the Clinton administration -- has demonstrated a skill for raising large amounts of money in a short time. It also helps that the mayor can tap into his wide network of deep pockets and A-list connections that includes his brother, Ari, a top super-agent and CEO of the global talent company, William Morris Endeavor, whose business stretches into Wall Street and Silicon Valley. (The agency recently acquired the sports and fashion giant IMG for a cool $2.4 billion.)

    Back in 2010, when Rahm was running for mayor, the LA-based Ari Emanuel -- who reps Oprah Winfrey, Charlize Theron and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin -- gathered together some of rich and powerful Democrats in the entertainment industry to co-host a fundraiser at the Beverly Hills home of Haim Saban, the billionaire media magnate who's donated heavily to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Among the attendee-donors: Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company; David Geffen, co-founder of DreamWorks Studios; and multi-hyphenate investor Peter Chernin, who sits on the boards of American Express, Twitter and Pandora. Steven Spielberg, who needs no introduction, was another contributor.

    These donations helped give Emanuel a major financial edge over fellow aspiring Chicago mayors Gery Chico, Carol Mosley Braun and Miguel del Valle in the 2011 election. He won 55 percent of the vote.

    Thinking ahead to 2015, the brothers Emanuel threw another fundraiser early last year. The Chicago Sun-Times reported in April 2013 that more than 55 percent of Emanuel's campaign contributions -- then totaling some $426,000 -- came from southern California. Hollywood contributors included: Iger; Sorkin; ex-Disney honcho Michael Eisner; Universal Studios head Ron Meyer, and film studio Lionsgate Entertainment, which wrote a check for $10,500 toward the mayor's political war chest that contained nearly $2 million at the time.

    One year later, he's collected $7 million (and counting).

    Given the latest polls, Emanuel -- who faces voter backlash over recent public school closures and his new plan to rescue city pensions by raising property taxes -- may require a lot more than than a million-dollar check to secure a second term at City Hall.

    Which begs the questions: Can the mayor's cash buy Chicago's love? Will Bill Clinton's charm have any effect on the mayoral election? Who's got what it takes to give Rahm a run for his money?