Outside groups big players in Chicago-area Democratic congressional primaries

National groups with deep pockets are playing significant roles in the Democratic congressional primary fights between Reps. Marie Newman and Sean Casten in the 6th District and Delia Ramirez and Gil Villegas in the 3rd District.

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Outside groups are pouring money into Chicago- area congressional primaries.

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WASHINGTON — In the Chicago area, national groups with deep pockets are playing significant roles in the Democratic congressional primary fights between Reps. Marie Newman and Sean Casten in the 6th District, Delia Ramirez and Gil Villegas in the 3rd District, and to a lesser degree, Rep. Danny Davis and Kina Collins in the 7th District.

OUTSIDE MONEY DEFINED: This political spending is called an “independent expenditure” and cannot be coordinated or controlled by a candidate. The money is spent mainly for election communications — TV and digital ads and direct mail. The spending to oppose or support a candidate must be reported to the Federal Election Commission. With the June 28 Illinois primary approaching, independent expenditures exceeding $1,000 must be reported to the FEC within 24 hours.

There is often a flood of outside spending in the closing days of campaigns.

The spending information below comes from FEC filings as of Thursday examined by the Chicago Sun-Times.


Last September, the House voted 420-9 to approve $1 billion to bolster Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system with one Republican and eight Democrats voting no — among them Newman and Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill. That was the final straw for the pro-Israel Democratic Majority for Israel political action committee, which as of Thursday spent $467,028 to defeat Newman and $37,492 to support Casten running in the newly remapped 6th District.

The DMFI ads and direct mail against Newman do not mention Israel.

Rather, the negative hits accuse Newman of being “corrupt” because of the House ethics committee probe hanging over her with the central issue of whether she improperly induced Iymen Hamman Chehade to not run against her in 2020 in exchange for a contract she signed on Dec. 26, 2018, promising him a House job if she won election.

Newman’s current district is the home to many Palestinian-Americans. Chehade — who is running for Congress against Villegas and Ramirez — is a pro-Palestinian advocate.

The Office of Congressional Ethics made public an Oct. 27, 2018, email Chehade sent to Newman with his job proposal, where he asked Newman to commit to opposing any legislation giving Israel additional military aid plus a string of other pro-Palestinian demands. In Newman’s emailed reply, she thanked him for a “very good discussion.”

In the wake of the Monday death of Casten’s daughter, Gwen, 17, spokespeople for the Casten and Newman campaigns told the Sun-Times on Wednesday they are in a temporary pause. Mark Mellman, DMFI founder and president, told the Sun-Times that, following the lead of the campaigns, his group suspended its paid communications.

Asked why DMFI’s PAC opposes Newman, Mellman said, “We support the Democratic agenda. And an important part of the Democratic agenda is support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship” and Newman, he said, has “undermined” that relationship.

Ben Hardin, Newman’s campaign adviser, said Newman’s “positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict represent the interests of the constituents in her district.” Chehade is a foreign policy advisor for the Newman campaign.

The September Iron Dome standalone bill was blocked in the Senate. The $1 billion was tucked into another measure and voted on again on March 9. This time, Newman — already locked in a race against Casten — was one of three House members not voting on the bill.

Other outside money: for Casten, $17,925 from the National Association of Realtors PAC and $50,000 from a group associated with Casten, the New Democratic Coalition Action Fund.


As of Thursday, 10 groups were pouring money into the newly created district, where the main battle is between Ramirez, a state representative running with the support of some of the most far-left groups, and Villegas, an alderperson who, by comparison, is a more moderate progressive. About $1 million went to boost Villegas and some $890,000 to bolster Ramirez.

Villegas served in the Marines. VoteVets Action Fund as of Thursday, spent a total of $959,000; $741,200 to support Villegas and $218,000 to oppose Ramirez.

VoteVets Chair Jon Soltz said, “We will not shy away from comparing Gil’s record to others when it comes to important issues for people in the district.”

For Ramirez, EMILY’S List Women Vote! so far reported a $163,332 independent expenditure, $379,000 from the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC and $230,000 from the Working Families Party PAC, which outside of the independent expenditures also paid for two polls.

DMFI, the pro-Israel PAC, spent $64,710 for negative hits on Ramirez, who is endorsed by Rep. Garcia, one of the eight Democrats to vote against the Iron Dome funding last year. And while Newman didn’t vote when the Iron Dome appropriation came up again in March, Garcia was one of 15 Democrats to vote no.


The outside money in the Davis vs. Collins match — a contest between two strong progressives — was about even as of Thursday. Justice Democrats reported spending $120,000 to support Collins. The group is closely associated with “The Squad” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. The so-far secretive new Opportunity for All Action Fund, which is refusing to disclose any information about its organizers, spent $125,000 to boost Davis.


Outside spending totaling about $7.5 million to date is also a considerable factor in the Republican primary between Reps. Rodney Davis and Mary Miller in the 15th District, which sweeps in parts of western and eastern central Illinois.

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