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Bipartisan ‘No Labels’ group’s super PAC network revealed: mega Chicago donors

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is among the big Chicago names who have donated money to political-action committees tied to a bipartisan group called No Labels. | Associated Press

With a boost from Chicago-area mega donors, including White Sox and Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, No Labels, a group advocating bipartisanship in Congress, has created a network of super PACs to influence the 2018 elections — but doesn’t want its fingerprints on the money.

One of the super PACs, United for Progress Inc., has spent $740,334 as of Sunday to bolster Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., in his March 20 Illinois Democratic primary battle with Marie Newman in the 3rd Congressional District.

The names of the super PACS don’t link them to No Labels.

A Sun-Times investigation determined super PACS related to No Labels include: United for Progress Inc.; Citizens for a Strong America Inc.; United Together; Govern or Go Home; and Forward, Not Back.

The Sun-Times inquiry included interviews with donors or their representatives and an examination of documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

United for Progress, Inc., is playing political hardball, attacking Newman in the commercials and direct mail pieces it paid for.

Lipinski is part of a No Labels offshoot, the congressional “Problem Solvers Caucus.”

The primary contest between incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski and Democratic primary challenger Marie Newman is one in which a super PAC tied to the No Labels group has gotten involved, paying for ads and a direct-mail campaign slamming Newman. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

These super PACs are stockpiling money for “independent expenditures,” which cannot be made in coordination with the campaigns or candidates the super PACs are trying to help.

Representatives of No Labels did not respond to calls and emails from the Sun-Times asking for comment. At one time the organization was not so mysterious about its political plans for this off-year election. In December 2016, No Labels announced it wanted to raise $50 million for super PAC giving to what it considered centrist contenders running in 2018.

Since then, No Labels has been appealing to mega donors from both parties.

A contributor to one of the No Labels super PACs — a moderate Republican who told the Sun-Times he did not want his name used — said he contributed because “No Labels is trying to bring people together. … It’s people in the center who get things done.”

WHAT IS NO LABELS: Founded in December 2010, No Labels, based in Washington, describes its mission as bringing “a new politics of goals-focused problem solving to our government. … No Labels has never called for people to entirely shed their party affiliations. … As long as they are intellectually honest, we respect conservatives, liberals, and anyone in between who has a sincere desire to address the nation’s problems.”

THE ILLINOIS CONNECTIONS: Last year, a No Labels leader, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, was a draw at a meeting at the Chicago Club, 81 E. Van Buren. Lieberman was the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee who became an Independent senator from Connecticut.

According to FEC disbursement records, Citizens for a Strong America, Inc. paid $327.87 to the Chicago Club on Dec. 13 for meals.

Among those pitching for the No Labels-related super PAC donations, I am told by two sources, was Illinois Republican donor Craig Duchossois, chairman and CEO of The Duchossois Group. Duchossois declined to comment for this story.

Another source who has been solicited to contribute to the No Label network of super PACs – who also did not want his name used – said for years, Reinsdorf and Duchossois have been “actively engaged in promoting No Labels and its various super PACs. I don’t know why they are running away from this.”

United for Progress tends to help Democrats; Citizens for a Strong America focuses on Republicans. The other super PACs have yet to spend money supporting or opposing candidates.

The timing of donations in 2017 to these super PACs from Chicago-area business executives and others tell part of this story, according to FEC records:

• White Sox and Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf vaulted into the major leagues of political giving in 2017: $1 million in all to four super PACs.

On June 21, Reinsdorf gave $200,000 to Citizens for a Strong America and $200,000 to United for Progress.

On Nov. 28, Reinsdorf gave $300,000 to United Together and $300,000 to Govern or Go Home.

Reinsdorf declined to comment for this story. He is a longtime friend of former Rep. William Lipinski D-Ill., the father of Dan Lipinski.

• On June 14, Duchossois donated $100,000 to Citizens for a Strong America and on June 13, $100,000 to United for Progress.

• On May 30, Jim Frank, the executive chairman of the Board of Wheels, Inc. in Des Plaines gave $100,000 to Citizens for a Strong America and $100,000 to United for Progress. On Nov. 30, Frank gave another $50,000 to “Citizens.”

When I called Frank last week and asked him about the connections between the two groups, he told me, “I suggest you contact No Labels in Washington.”

• On Dec. 28, Daniel Tierney of Wicklow Capital, 737 N. Michigan, the co-founder of GETCO, donated $300,000 to “Citizens,” making him the biggest Illinois donor to this super PAC.

On Dec. 28, Tierney also donated $100,000 to Forward, Not Back. On April 10, Tierney donated $5,000 to the No Labels Problem Solvers PAC.

• Last December, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig of Milwaukee gave to two super PACs Reinsdorf also had contributed to: $125,000 on Dec. 21 to United Together. On Dec. 22, he donated $125,000 to Govern or Go Home.

• On June 23, Michael Sonnenfeldt of New York, the founder and chairman of Tiger 21, gave $100,000 to “Citizens” and $125,000 to “United.”

On April 4, Sonnenfeldt donated $5,000 to the No Labels Problem Solvers PAC.

• In 2017, Andy Bursky, a co-founder of No Labels, donated to United for Progress, Inc.; Citizens for a Strong America, Inc.; United Together and Forward, Not Back.

Last November, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., became the new co-chairs of No Labels.