BROWN: Congressional candidate Moreno touts expected super PAC help

SHARE BROWN: Congressional candidate Moreno touts expected super PAC help
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Ald. Proco Joe Moreno in a meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board. Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) said Tuesday his political supporters will soon announce creation of a $1 million super PAC to back his campaign for the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Luis Gutierrez in Congress.

Moreno told me he expects organizers of the super PAC to announce its formation in the next 10 days and to begin airing television commercials before the end of the month.

If true, such a development would introduce an important new dynamic in the 4th Congressional District race, which got off to a hectic start last month when Gutierrez withdrew from the contest just a week before the candidate filing deadline and endorsed Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Gutierrez’ maneuver gave Garcia a major head start on potential opponents, especially when coupled with the extensive name recognition Garcia received by forcing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to a runoff in 2015.

But a super PAC, which is allowed to raise and spend unlimited funds in an end run around normal federal campaign finance limits, could help level the playing field for Garcia’s opponents — especially if that money is spent on attacking Garcia.

Just the same, not everybody is convinced there’s someone willing to invest that kind of money in the candidacy of Moreno, who barely avoided a runoff in his 2015 re-election contest and registered just 4 percent in an early poll taken last month for the Garcia campaign. That poll said 53 percent of voters in the district favored Garcia.

On Tuesday, the Democratic field for the March 20 primary shrunk to five candidates with the withdrawal of Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who threw his support to Garcia.

Ramirez-Rosa and Garcia portrayed the move as a coming together of local progressives. Both men were delegates for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

I mainly called Moreno to hear his take about Ramirez-Rosa endorsing Garcia. As expected, he strongly defended his own progressive credentials.

Then he surprised me by telling me about the super PAC.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a super PAC is that it is supposed to spend its money independently of the candidate. There is supposed to be no “coordination” between the super PAC and the candidate’s campaign, a somewhat preposterous fig leaf, but a rule nonetheless.

Candidates usually pretend they don’t know anything about a super PAC until it starts airing commercials, and even then, often disavow any connection to it.

Moreno, by contrast, said he has been involved in its formation.

“When the folks approached me, I put them together with a lawyer,” he said.

Moreno declined to identify those “folks.”

“That will come out,” he assured me.

But he definitely knows who they are.

“You have somebody who has your best interests … somebody there you trust that knows the kind of messaging you want to get out,” he said.

Moreno told me that to avoid violating the super PAC’s restrictions on coordination he has “purposely” not raised any federal campaign money so far to avoid triggering a requirement that he register a fundraising committee with the Federal Election Commission.

Moreno said he’s doing it this way because the short campaign window required raising a lot of money in a hurry, which couldn’t be done under the normal campaign finance limits.

“When you raise $5,000, all their rules kick in,” he said.

FEC records show Moreno is the only candidate in the race who has yet to file a fundraising committee. I think most of his opponents have taken that as a sign Moreno isn’t in the race for the long haul.

But Moreno told me he is eager to match his credentials with the other candidates when they are scheduled to meet Wednesday morning with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.

For any lawyers out there — armchair or otherwise — scratching your heads about this, I’m with you.

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