Wealthy businessmen help Emanuel PAC raise $1 million in 10 days

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A new super PAC created to re-elect Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his City Council allies has raised $1 million in less than two weeks, thanks to hefty contributions from eight business titans.

A disclosure statement filed with the State Board of Elections shows five, $150,000 contributions to “Chicago Forward.”

They came from real estate mogul Barry Malkin and four CEOs: Ken Griffin of Citadel Investment Group; Groupon’s Eric Lefkofsky; Michael Sacks of Grosvenor Capital Management and Samuel Mencoff of Madison Dearborn Partners.

Madison Dearborn Partners Chairman John Canning, an investor in Wrapports, the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times, contributed $100,000. So did Paul Finnegan, Madison Dearborn’s CEO/ Private Equity. Paul Meister, Grosvenor’s chief operating officer and vice-chairman, contributed $50,000.

Sacks is Emanuel’s close friend, chief business adviser and vice chairman of World Business Chicago, the nonprofit economic development arm of City Hall. He is also a Wrapports investor.

Griffin’s donation to the Emanuel PAC follows his record $2.5 million contribution to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, the mayoral friend and former business associate.

Chicago Forward was formed less than two weeks ago by a political operative with close ties to the mayor in a move some viewed as a shot across the bow at Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Raising eyebrows was the PAC’s decision to line up a blue-ribbon team of consultants.

They include: direct mail specialist Jim Crounse, who worked on Bill de Blasio’s successful campaign for mayor of New York; Nancy Kohn, main fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; and political consultant Saul Shorr, who’s famous for producing the commercial that helped Dawn Clark Netsch win the 1994 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

That team of heavyweights has some political observers convinced the “Chicago Forward” PAC is a whole lot more than an updated version of the two political action committees that helped elect an Emanuel-friendly City Council in 2011.

The PAC can raise unlimited funds but cannot coordinate with the Emanuel campaign.

“Saul Shorr is one of the top media consultants in the country. I guarantee you he’s not signing up with some super PAC to do aldermanic races. Same goes for Crounse, one of the top direct-mail guys in the country,” said a political operative opposed to the mayor, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Chicago Sun-Times last month.

“This is obviously a super PAC set up to do negative attacks on Toni Preckwinkle if she decides to run for mayor. Emanuel has very weak re-elect numbers. Toni is very popular. If she got in the race, Rahm realizes an attack on her could backfire on him. The PAC’s job is to bloody her up so he doesn’t have to.”

Ken Snyder, a political consultant for Preckwinkle, said his client is singularly focused on her current job as county board president. Preckwinkle is running for re-election unopposed in November, but she has pointedly refused to rule out a race for mayor.

Speaking generally about Emanuel’s new super PAC, Snyder said, “This is obviously an attempt to create a phony arms-length between Rahm and negative attack ads against a potential opponent, which no one will believe is true and reveals that Rahm’s camp doesn’t believe he can win by exclusively talking about his record.”

The operative running Chicago Forward, Becky Carroll, said Wednesday the group is preparing to support candidates in City Council races and contests for citywide offices in the February 2015 election.

The effort no doubt will aid Emanuel’s allies on the Council in their re-election bids — and help fund challengers to aldermen who have clashed with the mayor.

Carroll said the group is continuing to seek contributions but had not set a fundraising goal.

“We’re going to raise what we need to raise,” said Carroll, who worked for Emanuel’s 2002 congressional campaign and previously was Chicago Public Schools spokewoman.

Emanuel refused to answer questions about the super PAC, calling it a “separate entity.”

Carroll has said that “Chicago Forward” intends to raise millions to educate Chicago voters on pressing issues facing the city, including pensions, city finances, education, public safety, economic development and the need to rebuild Chicago’s aging infrastructure.

“We intend to create a questionnaire process for municipal candidates focused around our issues,” she wrote in an email to the Sun-Times earlier this week.

“I’m still mapping out what the time line will be for that process … but we will be fully operational heading into the summer to ensure we’re prepared to engage voters and advocate for our issues in advance of the municipal elections. We expect to raise a significant amount of funding in support of those efforts. We will provide all disclosures regarding donors as required by state law in accordance with State Board of Election requirements.”

Emanuel had $7.4 million in his campaign war chest even before a fundraiser last week headlined by former President Bill Clinton.

A prolific fundraiser, he has been raising money at a frenzied pace in hopes of scaring off potential challengers who view him as vulnerable because of his 29 percent approval rating and single-digit support among African-American voters, according to a Sun-Times poll.

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