Rahm’s mayoral campaign figuring out how much money donors will get back

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined by his wife, Amy Rule, announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election. | Rahul Parikh/Sun-Times

Now that he’s decided against running for re-election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has indicated he plans to return the money donated to his campaign fund.

Exactly how much money is involved has yet to be determined, but somewhere upwards of $7 million looks like a good bet.

Emanuel had nearly $7.6 million in his campaign fund at the end of the June 30 reporting period.

Since then, he’s raised at least another $775,000, records show. It will be a few more weeks before his campaign committee needs to report how much he’s spent during that same time period.

One of the oddities of the mayor’s surprise decision is that his campaign was operating at full tilt right up until the moment he pulled the plug.

That means there will be staff and other expenses that remain to be paid, including, one would assume, some senior employees who made a long-term commitment through the election and will need to be compensated appropriately.

The likelihood, said a campaign source, is that donors will be repaid a portion of their original donation.

“Nobody will get 100 percent of their money back,” the source said.

There’s another complication. Exactly who gets repaid? Only the donors from 2018, or everyone who donated during the current election cycle?

Emanuel’s campaign started the year with more than $2 million in the bank because he’s been fundraising all along. Obviously, that spiked this year as he raised another $7 million.

There is no requirement for Emanuel to repay his donors or even for him to terminate his campaign fund after he leaves office.

Many politicians keep their campaign funds active long after they leave office, using them to make donations to other candidates and to defray expenses they deem political. Former Gov. Jim Edgar left office in 1999 but still has $378,000 in his campaign committee.

There’s a strong possibility Emanuel also will leave some money in his campaign fund to pay for future political endeavors.

Emanuel wouldn’t be the first candidate to return campaign contributions after dropping out.

One timely example: former White House Chief of Staff William Daley returned $1 million to donors after abandoning the governor’s race in 2013.

Daley, who took over the chief of staff job after Emanuel gave it up to run for mayor, is now said to be exploring a mayoral bid of his own.

Emanuel also could have donated his campaign funds to another candidate, as long as he observed applicable contribution limits.

In the case of this year’s mayoral race, there are no limits because candidate Willie Wilson already exceeded the maximum personal donation from a candidate. But Emanuel has said he will not endorse any other candidate.

Some Illinois politicians are still allowed to take their money with them when they leave politics, as long as they report it to the Internal Revenue Service as income.

That applies only to campaign committees established before July 1, 1998, when state law was changed to ban the practice. A grandfather clause preserves their right to keep an amount equal to their fund balance at that time.

That excludes Emanuel, who created his campaign fund in 2010, but it does include several other longstanding politicians of note whose careers could be coming to a close over the next year. Stay tuned.


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