Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Rahm’s Super Pac Donors Are All Birds of a Feather

You better have deep pockets if you want to be the mayor's friend

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In politics, it’s good to have money. But it’s even better to have friends who have money—and lots of it.  For proof, just take a look at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The guy sets up a new super PAC to help with his campaign for mayor and boom!—10 days later it’s got $1 million in the bank.  The super PAC, known as Chicago Forward, is intended to “advocate for him and his agenda in his re-election campaign, as well as aldermanic candidates who support his position on the issues.”

Who, you might ask, has the kind of dough it takes to drop a cool mil in Rahm’s pockets in a matter of only a few days? Well, if you’ve been following the man’s career, the answer shouldn't surprise you. The $1 million came from just four investors—oops, I mean donors—each of them with longstanding ties to the city’s financial industry, the mayor himself and each a very, very wealthy man.

At the top of that list is Ken Griffin, who runs Citadel LLC, a Chicago-based hedge fund. He’s also one of Illinois’ wealthiest individuals, with a personal net worth of over $5 billion. Griffin has been throwing a lot of money around of late in local political circles, giving no less than $2.5 million to Republican billionaire Bruce Rauner, who’s running for governor.  

If both Rauner and Emanuel win re-election this year and next, it’s hard to imagine a private individual who’s going to have a bigger hand in how things are run in the city and state than Griffin. In reality, $2.5 million buys a lot of seats at the table where decisions are made. So does being an early investor in the mayor’s reelection. 

Right behind Griffin in super PAC donations is Michael Sacks, another hedge fund type and one of Rahm’s right hand men. So close to the mayor is Mr. Sacks that he was tapped to help sell the mayor’s revised parking meter deal in 2013 to skeptical aldermen, among other jobs he’s handled. His firm, Grosvenor Capital Management, also dropped $450,000 to help Emanuel get elected in the first place. 

The other two donors—Erik Lefkofsky of Groupon and Barry Malkin of GEM Realty Capital—are just as close to the mayor and nearly as wealthy as Griffin and Sacks.  

Why does all of this matter? Actually, it’s very simple. There’s an old saying in certain religious circles that goes “If you wear show-leather, the whole earth becomes covered in leather”.

In other words, surround yourself with only rich folk, and you’ll soon lose any idea whatsoever about what it’s like to be poor.

Which matters greatly for, say, the job of being Chicago’s mayor. Increasingly, this city is being divided into those residents and neighborhoods that are well-off and those that are struggling. Some of that is due to issues like the economy, while a big part is due to the policies of the man who sits in the fifth floor of City Hall.

And who's standing by his side matters greatly in how the city ends up being run. After all, it’s not Rahm hanging out on the street corner when someone gets shot in the head in the early morning hours on South Winchester Avenue.  It’s not Ken Griffin who has to worry when one of his kids is shuttled from one underperforming school to another because the mayor closed 50 schools across the city. 

And, in the end, it’s not Michael Sacks who’s in danger of ending up in jail simply because the mayor gutted the city’s mental health care system and he has nowhere else to turn.  

But all three of them are there—along with their other friend, Mr. Rauner—when the checks are being passed around the table. And they’re all sure to be there when the decisions are made that effect the every day lives of those who live in their shadow.  

After all, they all have business to run and wealth to manage, which means that sometimes hard decisions are going have to be make that affect the other millions of poor souls who call Chicago home. Which brings to mind another old saying sometimes heard in certain circles: “If a pickpocket meets a saint, he sees only his pockets.”

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