United Working Families appeals for donations to counter business influence

“Big business and right-wing donors are scared of what we’re doing,” United Working Families Executive Director Emma Tai wrote in a Friday fundraising appeal to supporters.

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Emma Tai, executive director of United Working Families, at a City Hall news conference in August 2019.

Emma Tai, executive director of United Working Families, launched a fundraising campaign Friday to help candidates for City Council.

Sun-Times file

United Working Families is launching a fundraising campaign to prevent what it calls “Chicago’s corporate donor class” from becoming an outsized influence in next year’s aldermanic elections.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Mike Ruemmler, who managed former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2015 re-election campaign, is chairing an independent expenditure committee bankrolled by business leaders to elect alderpersons who want to “be part of the solution and not lob bombs from the sideline.”

Ruemmler said he hopes to raise “into the seven figures” — enough money to “play in ... somewhere between 17 and 23” wards. Former Sun-Times investor Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, has agreed to be one of the donors. During Emanuel’s eight years in office, Sacks was his chief fundraiser and all-purpose adviser.

On Friday, United Working Families used that so-called “dark money super PAC” in a fundraising appeal of its own.

“Let’s be clear. Chicago’s corporate donor class — which for decades has been closing schools, poisoning our air and pushing working-class people out of their homes — is scared that they’re not going to be able to keep it up,” Executive Director Emma Tai wrote in an email to supporters Friday.

“We don’t have Michael Sacks writing checks for us. But if everyone reading this email signs up to give just $10 or $25 today, we’ll surpass our goal of raising $20,000 for our PAC by the end of 2022. Click here to chip in what you can today.”

Citing the Sun-Times story, Tai wrote, “Big business and right-wing donors are scared of what we’re doing. ... Rahm Emanuel’s campaign manager and the CEOs and Wall Street firms that backed him are creating a new dark money super PAC to ‘prevent City Council from turning sharply to the left.’ We won’t back down from a fight.”

United Working Families is a progressive group with close ties to the Chicago Teachers Union. CTU President Stacy Davis Gates serves as chairwoman of United Working Families. The group has already endorsed City Council candidates, including a dozen challengers and six incumbents.

Tai and Gates could not be reached for comment. Neither could Ruemmler.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), one of those anointed incumbents, has noted that “not even 20%” of the current City Council was elected with support from United Working families.

“Just imagine what we’re going to be able to get done with all of these wonderful candidates behind me here today standing with us in City Hall,” Ramirez-Rosa said on the day the endorsements were announced.

United Working Families has long championed what it calls progressive revenues that include raising the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales; reinstating the employee head tax; and imposing fees on universities and wealthy nonprofits exempt from paying property taxes.

In November 2019, the group urged alderpersons to vote against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first budget because it broke her campaign promise to reopen shuttered mental health clinics and tax wealthy corporations to pay for it.

At the time, United Working Families was also among a coalition of groups that unveiled a $4.5 billion wish list of revenue-generating ideas they say would level the playing field between Chicago’s haves and have-nots.

It included a 3.5% city income tax on Chicagoans and suburbanites earning more than $100,000 a year; a financial transaction tax; a 66% increase in the city’s highest-in-the-nation hotel tax; and a revived employee head tax at four times the rate it was when it was abolished.

Lightfoot called those demands “untethered from the reality of the fiscal challenges” Chicago faces.

“It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and lob bombs. It’s much more difficult to govern — and particularly govern in a way that brings fairness and reality and fiscal prudence to a process,” the mayor said then.

Lightfoot argued then that the tag team of United Working Families and CTU had opposed her “from the moment of my inauguration” and predicted their “continual drumbeat of complaints” would continue “until they support and announce a candidate in opposition to me in the next election.”

The mayor was right on that latter point. Unwilling to wait for U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., to make up his mind, CTU and United Working Families endorsed Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson for mayor.

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