How much money would it take to buy the Chicago City Council?
Would $2 million do it? $5 million? $10 million?
Clearly, someone out there in the world thinks the City Council can be bought.
Actually, it’s more than just one person. In reality, it’s a small group of wealthy corporate executives, philanthropists and members of organized labor groups—led by the mayor—that are betting control of the Chicago City Council has a price. And they’re ponying up money as fast as they can in order to get in on the ground floor.
A new super-PAC created to help Mayor Rahm Emanuel manage and control the Chicago City Council by electing aldermanic candidates who support his agenda reported it raised more than $1 million during the last three months, bringing the group’s total fundraising to $2.4 million since it was founded in June.
Much has been made since its launch over the real purpose of Chicago Forward, the super-PAC run by Becky Carroll, a long-time Rahm ally and former head of communications for the Chicago Public Schools. While the group formally says it’s only interested in helping push issues important to all Chicagoans, it has been seen by most political observers as a thinly-veiled mechanism designed to help the mayor throw political opponents in City Council out of office and elect a new class of more compliant candidates.
The group’s purpose became even clearer back in September when Chicago Forward sent an email questionnaire to 53 announced aldermanic candidates asking whether they would support issues the mayor believes in, such as charter school expansion, denying an elected school board and the potential for a citywide property tax hike.
The email promised that for those candidates that answered correctly, the PAC would launch “a series of targeted communication campaigns ward by ward and city-wide to get our message out to voters through television ads, radio ads, mail, and phone communications.”
In other words: sign on the dotted line, and we’ll happily help beat whoever it is you’re running against. Particularly if we don't like him or her politically.
But, just like any other political action committee, Chicago Forward is at least nominally required to remain apart and distinct from the mayor’s direct political activities. And, for a while, Carroll, the PAC’s only public voice, hewed close to the line of pretending the group was simply interested in issue-oriented activity.
All that’s changed, however, with the news of the most recent fundraising totals. Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times, Carroll made it clear the group has somebody, somewhere already in its sights.
“Our primary goal is to advocate for issues and identify those seeking office at City Hall who embrace those issues and advocate on their behalf” she told the Sun-Times. “We may also decide to go on the offense when it comes to some candidates, but those decisions have simply not been made yet,” she said, noting that the super PAC would continue to raise money right on through the Feb. 24 election and the April 7 run-offs.
Right. Because it’s clear that a group that can raise $2.4 million in a few months doesn't already have an idea about who it’s going to target come Election Day.
In fact, that must be at the heart of the pitch being made when Chicago Forward shows up in corporate boardrooms, hands out asking for money. And, have no doubt, corporate boardrooms is where Chicago Forward does its best business.
Six of the city’s richest people gave the super PAC $100,000 a pop, including Stephen Malkin, president of Ranger Capital Management, Joe Mansueto, CEO of Morningstar, Inc. and Mark Gallogly, managing principal of Centerbridge Partners—all powerhouse financial services firms. Lesser contributors in the $25,000 to $50,000 range include Wal-Mart, Sam Zell and IBEW Local 34.
And what, pray tell, will these early donors get for their investment? It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a more compliant City Council could be created, but every investor must receive something for his full faith and commitment. Mayoral challenger and 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti has made his view clear by suggesting Chicago Forward is little more than a means to destroy the mayor’s most organized block of opponents in Council, the Progressive Reform Caucus.
But it has to go deeper than that. People may write $100,000 checks because they're friends of Rahm, but even the most wealthy or cavalier business person wants to see some kind of return on his investment.
Which means Chicago Forward is pitching some kind of outcome for the donations it receives, even if what’s its promising is that City Council will jump a little bit higher and a little bit faster whenever the mayor or his wealthy benefactors come a-calling.
The only question at this point seems to be what the asking price is for a municipal legislative body these days. Is $10 million enough? Or will it take more?
I guess we’ll find out come Election Day what the real price tag is.