Lightfoot campaign raises $1 million in 3 months — and more than half of it is spent

The mayor spent $607,449 of the $1 million she raised in the three months that ended Sept. 30. This could cause problems for her when her reelection campaign shifts into high gear.

SHARE Lightfoot campaign raises $1 million in 3 months — and more than half of it is spent
Lori Lightfoot on election night in April 2019.

Lori Lightfoot on election night in April 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The good news for Mayor Lori Lightfoot: She raised more money than any of her rivals during the third quarter of 2022, ending with $2.94 million in the bank — nearly twice as much as her next-highest competitor, not counting self-funding millionaire businessman Willie Wilson.

The bad news: Lightfoot spent $607,449 of the $1 million she raised during the three-month period ending Sept. 30, and still hasn’t aired any TV or radio commercials to boost her 25% approval rating.

That campaign cash “burn rate,” as political insiders call it, could spell trouble for Lightfoot when the nine-candidate mayoral race kicks into high gear after the Nov. 8 election.

And it’s particularly true given that most of Chicago’s big-money interests remain on the sidelines, possibly waiting for another candidate to announce.

That’s pretty much the bottom line after Monday’s midnight deadline for filing quarterly fundraising reports came and went.

Not surprisingly, Wilson leads the pack. His initial $5 million contribution to himself once again lifted fundraising caps for all candidates in the crowded field.

Wilson closed the quarter with $4.68 million in the bank. He raised $1.04 million, $1 million of it a loan from himself, and spent $906,267.

Wilson is the only mayoral candidate already airing TV commercials. He has devoted $6 million of his personal fortune to unseating the embattled incumbent he endorsed in 2019 and said he is prepared to donate $3 million more.

Businessman Willie Wilson, shown at his April 11 announcement that he is running for mayor of Chicago.

Businessman Willie Wilson, shown in April announcing his run for mayor of Chicago.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Lightfoot raised $1.04 million from a broad base of 250 donors. The mayor had only a handful of six-figure donations, a far cry from fundraiser extraordinaire Rahm Emanuel, whose Rolodex was the stuff of legends.

Her biggest contributions came from Carpentry Advancement PAC ($150,000); restaurant magnate Rich Melman, Newsweb CEO Fred Eychaner, Cubs-co-owner Laura Ricketts and former Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey ($50,000 apiece); Leaders for Tomorrow State ($44,100); and Clifford Law Offices, Finishing Trades of Chicago, Illinois Black Political Action Fund and Chris Abele, managing director of CBA Partners ($25,000 apiece).

Next in line for fundraising totals is retiring Ald. Sophia King (4th), who joined the race Aug. 10.

Showcasing fundraising muscle she demonstrated in the 2017 special aldermanic election, King raised $210,552 from 105 donors, spent $67,484 and closed the quarter with $217,905 in the bank.

King has close ties to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the vanquished mayoral challenger who chairs the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization.

King’s husband, Alan, a house music DJ and Chicago attorney, is a basketball-playing buddy of former President Barack Obama.

That is, in part, how she came to be appointed alderperson by Emanuel, Obama’s first White House chief of staff. It’s also how she out-raised her four opponents in the February 2017 4th Ward special election nearly 6 to 1.

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas also showed some fundraising prowess.

He started the quarter with $850,186, raised $153,370 more through Sept. 30, spent all but $1,895 of it, and closed the quarter with $852,080. The bulk of cash raised during the quarter came from three donors: Samuel Mencoff, co-CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners ($50,000); Virtas Partners ($50,000); and GIMCO, Inc. in Highland Park ($25,000).

The Vallas campaign claims it now has $1.634 million in cash on hand after a “significant spike” in contributions after the Sept. 30 deadline. Those recent donations are now $782,000 and counting.

The rest of the field barely registers on the fundraising meter.

Retiring Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) raised $187,180, spent $174,920, and closed with $154,638 in the bank.

County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who has yet to declare his candidacy, got a $150,000 donation from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, but had not filed his quarterly report by the midnight Monday deadline.

Like Lopez, Illinois state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) had an even higher “burn rate” than Lightfoot. He raised $72,818, spent $113,349 and closed the third quarter with $8,115 in the bank.

Chicago mayoral candidate and state Rep. Kam Buckner, shown at a May 18 news conference.

During the third quarter of 2022, Chicago mayoral candidate and state Rep. Kam Buckner, shown at a May news conference, spent more in mayoral campaign funds than he raised.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) raised $63,500, spent $44,152, and closed with $19,347. Community activist Ja’Mal Green raised $42,827, spent $35,981, and ended the third quarter with $14,367 on hand.

Veteran political operative Victor Reyes said Lightfoot’s fundraising has steadily improved, but she’s still about $2 million short of the $5 million he believes is the bare minimum she needs to rebuild her image.

“It benefits the incumbent when the election season is shorter, and no one is really that engaged. But it’s not an ideal position for an incumbent in Chicago to be in. Not ideal at all,” said Reyes, who is not involved with any of the mayoral candidates.

“The anemic fundraising for an incumbent is also like a poll. When the money doesn’t flow, it shows a bit of a trepidation by the institutional players. They’re sitting on the sidelines, not knowing if there’s gonna be another candidate.”

Without, “Pritzker-level money” needed to “go up on the air and never come down,” Reyes said Lightfoot needs to “spend money” strategically, such as on TV ads.

“Let’s say she did three to four weeks before the holidays. That’s $2.1 million. And then probably four weeks after Jan. 1. That’s another $2.1 million. That’s just on media. That’s not on staffing or mail. It’s just on broadcast, cable and digital,” Reyes said.

Lightfoot campaign spokesperson Christina Freundlich said the mayor is “very proud of the number we have posted” after out-raising “all of our opponents with the exception of the self-funding Willie Wilson.”

The mayor will have the resources she needs to “get on the air in the fall,” Freundlich said.

“After we get through the midterms, I expect Chicagoans to know more about the Republican opponents that we’re running against — whether it’s Paul Vallas or Willie Wilson,” Freundlich said.

“We’re gonna be up on the air driving a strong contrast between the mayor’s accomplishments and some of the extreme Republican positions of our opponents.”

Vallas ran for governor and lieutenant governor as a Democrat and has been a registered Democrat all his life. He has scoffed at the Republican label — though he has received six-figure contributions from several Republican business leaders, including executives from Ken Griffin’s Citadel and Madison Dearborn Partners.

Freundlich blamed the midterm elections — which include races for governor and all other statewide offices, along with two open seats on the Illinois Supreme Court — for keeping institutional money on the sidelines in the mayor’s race.

Why the high burn rate?

“We are putting our resources into building a robust campaign. That includes building a grass-roots campaign to get the mayor on the ballot and run a robust volunteer program here in the fall,” she said.

Veteran political strategist Peter Giangreco advised State Comptroller Susana Mendoza during the 2019 mayoral campaign. He’s now doing the same for King.

Giangreco said the 2023 mayoral campaign is a “referendum on Lightfoot” and it is, so far, “a referendum she’s losing, mostly because of crime.”

“What she needs is tens of millions of dollars to reframe the race, and she doesn’t have that because she’s not raising enough and she’s spending too much,” Giangreco said.

“If she can’t reframe the race, then we’re gonna have a new mayor.”

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