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Obama here for fundraisers as outside groups target Durbin

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama hits Chicago on Thursday to headline major-money fundraisers for Sen. Dick Durbin and Senate Democrats as two outside conservative groups recently spent $554,480 to defeat Durbin — one of them bankrolled by Lake Forest business executive and mega-donor Richard Uihlein.

Obama visits Chicago for a reception at the Gold Coast home of Invenergy LLC CEO Michael Polsky and his wife, Tanya, followed by a dinner at the Lincoln Park residence of Fred Eychaner, the chairman of Newsweb Corp. and one of the biggest Democratic donors in the nation.

Eychaner in March donated $4 million to the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC dedicated to keeping the U.S. Senate in Democratic control. The Thursday proceeds will be split between Durbin’s campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which would spend it on Durbin if he needed help.

The Chicago price points, according to the invite:

* The ask is $35,000 per couple for the Eychaner dinner and a photo with Obama, or $17,500 per person. I hear about 50 people are expected for the dinner.

* $15,000 to be listed as a Polsky reception co-chair, with a photo.

* $10,000 to be a reception sponsor, with a photo.

* $1,000 reception guest, no photo.

Obama is expected to overnight in Chicago after the events. He was in Chicago last for an April 2 major-money fundraiser to benefit the Democratic National Committee.

Though Durbin had $6,062,115 in his campaign fund as of March 31, which seems a lot when compared to the $473,081 cash-on-hand of GOP Senate nominee state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, Durbin is worried about money from outside groups and the ability of the wealthy Oberweis to write big checks for his long-shot bid.

Cases in point: In March, the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, a super Pac, spent $56,000 against Durbin, mainly in direct mail and telemarketing.

And since March, Americas PAC has poured $498,480 into anti-Durbin radio spots, according to Federal Election Commission Independent Expenditure records, including a May 14 filing reporting a $110,000 media buy.

Where does money for the Marion, Iowa-based Americas PAC come from?

A lot of it from Uihlein, the CEO of the Uline Corp., who is emerging as a major GOP Illinois political money player, bankrolling conservative and tea party movement candidates and causes.

One of Americas PAC funds is organized as a tax-exempt political organization and according to an IRS report (covering through March 31), Uihlein donated $350,000 on March 13.

An IRS report for 2013 shows Uihlein contributed $600,000 to Americas PAC last year.

That’s a combined $950,000 for 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 from Uihlein, making him Americas PAC’s biggest donor for that time period.

Days after Uihlein’s March donation to Americas PAC, according to IRS records going through March 31, money started flowing to Illinois radio stations for the anti-Durbin spots: $17,200 to WPJX in Waukegan on March 19, the day after the Illinois primary; $29,000 to WRPW in Bloomington on March 26 and $31,360 to WIBL in Normal on March 27.

Uihlein also has contributed $350,000 to GOP Illinois governor nominee Bruce Rauner’s warchest. In 2010, Uihlein kept the GOP governor bid of Dan Proft, the WLS radio host, alive with $550,000 in contributions.

With Durbin so far ahead, the obvious question is why would outside groups throw money in so early?

One theory: The early spending could bring donors to Oberweis, since money begets money in politics.

And another theory I like better: Since Durbin has money and is a popular surrogate for other Democrats, the idea may be to keep him in Illinois and to make him spend it all.