GOP-linked business group helps ‘friends’ in Democratic County Board races

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Greg Baise, of the Coalition for Jobs, Growth & Prosperity, opposes the ballot measure. 

Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

A Republican-allied trade group that lobbied for repeal of the Cook County pop tax has pumped $700,000 into a dormant super PAC in an unusual last-minute play in the Democratic primary for county board.

The Illinois Manufacturers Association revealed over the past week that it has financed independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of Commissioner Richard Boykin over Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson and on behalf of Commissioner John Fritchey over lawyer Bridget Degnen.

Both Boykin and Fritchey have been aggressively targeted for removal by a broad coalition of public and private-sector labor unions after each voted against the pop tax. The unions say the two Democrats have been on the wrong side of many other county issues important to their members.

Greg Baise, president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said his group decided it “can’t sit idly by” without supporting those who were being attacked for opposing the pop tax.

“You know, you help your friends,” Baise said.

Johnson, a former school teacher, said the business group’s efforts in support of Boykin confirmed what he’s been saying for months.

“He’s a Republican, so Republicans are coming to his defense. He’s decided to take off his sheep’s clothing,” Johnson said.

Johnson denied the super PAC jumped into the race because of the pop tax.

“This is bigger than that,” he said. “That pop tax is dead and gone. This is about protecting the interests of those at the very top.”

RELATED: Chicago Sun-Times 2018 Illinois Primary Voting Guide

Boykin welcomed the group’s support but said he’s no Republican.

“He knows I’m not a Republican,” Boykin said.

“My prayers were answered. I prayed to God he would send somebody to help me offset” the union campaign donations, he said.

Baise acknowledged the manufacturers association’s heavy involvement in a Democratic primary involving Cook County board members is a first.

The group funneled its donations through The JOBS PAC, a pro-business super PAC that has been inactive since 2014.

The JOBS PAC reported spending $185,700 since just the start of the month on Boykin’s race and $128,000 on Fritchey’s.

The spending exceeds the state’s $100,000 ceiling for independent expenditures in a local race. The result is that candidates in those races no longer must abide by the state’s fundraising limits.

It’s unclear whether any of the candidates can take advantage of the no-holds-barred fundraising with just one week left until the election.

The JOBS PAC also disclosed spending $82,700 in support of Commissioner Dennis Deer and $51,500 for Stanley Moore. Both are Democrats facing primary challenges. They initially supported the pop tax, then voted for its repeal.

The JOBS PAC used the money to pay for radio and digital advertising, mailings and field work — all conducted by Xpress Professional Services Inc. The company is a for-profit political consulting arm of the IMA operated by Baise.

In one of the mailings, the group portrayed Johnson as an “out-of-touch politician” for his advocacy of a per employee head tax on employers in Cook County.

Johnson said he will continue to fight for “protecting public services and equitable tax structures.”

Baise would not say whether the group plans to spend more than the $700,000 that already has been committed. Out of that $700,000, the JOBS PAC still has $175,000 it could still spend — a large sum in a county board race.

Baise has been president of the manufacturer’s association since 1991. He also is treasurer of The JOBS PAC. Before joining the trade group, Baise was state transportation secretary under Republican Gov. Jim Thompson and a GOP candidate for state treasurer.

Chairman of The JOBS PAC is Bert Miller, president of Naperville-based packaging manufacturer Phoenix Closures and a former Republican candidate for Congress.

The JOBS PAC hasn’t been involved in any campaigns since 2014, when it supported an array of both Republican and Democratic state legislative candidates.

Johnson has been the beneficiary of some $320,000 in union donations.

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