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Kim Foxx courts donors as challengers emerge

Millions of dollars went into Foxx’s insurgent campaign for Cook County state’s attorney against an embattled incumbent four years ago.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx picked up a well-funded challenger in her bid for a second term: Bill Conway, a former prosecutor, and son of billionaire Carlyle Group co-founder William Conway Jr. Bill Conway has confirmed a $500,000 donation from his father.

The race for Cook County state’s attorney is already starting to get expensive.

Battling political headwinds from her controversial handling of the prosecution of Jussie Smollett, incumbent Kim Foxx had lined up contributions from some of Chicago’s wealthiest donors even before any other contenders emerged.

Last week, Foxx picked up a deep-pocketed challenger when former prosecutor Bill Conway launched his campaign, and Monday, Conway picked up a $500,000 donation from his father, billionaire Carlyle Group co-founder William Conway Jr.

Foxx’s insurgent bid to unseat Anita Alvarez in 2016 was an expensive affair, with the two candidates spending millions in one of the most hotly contested state’s attorney races.

Conway said he expects to put “significant personal and family resources” into his campaign, and his father’s $500,000 donation, first reported by Politico, blows through caps on campaign fundraising and opens the floodgates for any candidate in the race to collect donations of unlimited size from any supporter. Both Foxx and Alvarez broke through the $100,000 single-donor caps in 2016.

Foxx, whose campaign spent $2.6 million on her 2016 race, had $348,000 in her campaign account after raising $118,000 in the quarter ending June 30. Foxx’s 2016 win marked her as one of a wave of progressive candidates elected with the aid of national criminal justice reform groups that pumped millions into local prosecutor elections across the country.

Conway’s campaign declined comment on its half-million dollar donation and said the candidate was on Naval Reserves duty and not reachable. Reserves duty, Conway explained in a letter to the county’s Democratic committeemen, will prevent him from attending a pre-slating meeting this week.

Foxx is expected to be endorsed for reelection by the county Democratic Party, which is chaired by her political mentor and stalwart supporter, Toni Preckwinkle.

Considering a run is former prosecutor Donna More, who finished third in the 2016 race for state’s attorney. Former mayoral candidate Jerry Joyce also is measuring support, and former alderman and two-time mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti told Politico he’s “not ruling out” a run. Former prosecutor and retired Cook County Judge Pat O’Brien, who won election to the bench as a Democrat, has said he intends to run for state’s attorney as a Republican, and Christopher Pfannkuche, a Republican who also ran for state’s attorney in 2016, announced he will try again.

Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who is expressing interest in the Circuit Court clerk post, had said he was considering a run for state’s attorney.

Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin is considering a run, as is former prosecutor Donna More, who finished third in the 2016 race for state’s attorney. Former mayoral candidate Jerry Joyce also is measuring support and former alderman and two-time mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti told Politico he’s “not ruling out” a run. Former prosecutor and retired Cook County Judge Pat O’Brien, who won election to the bench as a Democrat, has said he intends to run for state’s attorney as a Republican and Christopher Pfannkuche, a Republican who also ran for state’s attorney in 2016, announced Thursday he will try again.

Campaign finance records show a well-heeled guest list for a June 28 Foxx fundraiser at a Near West Side restaurant that pulled in $95,000.

Records show 71 people paid between $100 and $5,800 to attend the dinner at Taste 222 in the Fulton River District; the list of host committee members included former Mayor Rahm Emanuel spokeswoman Tarrah Cooper, former Obama aide Desiree Rogers, veteran Democratic organizer Bettylu Saltzman and former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and his wife, Liz. Democratic consultants Pete Giangreco and Liz Houlihan are hosting another big-ticket event for Sept. 5 in Evanston. That fundraiser also lists Michael Sacks, an investor in the group that owns the Chicago Sun-Times, and his wife, Cari, as co-hosts of the event.

In her 2016 run against Alvarez, Foxx surged on a message of reform amid outrage over the incumbent’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting — as well as six-figure donations from Preckwinkle [$611,000 total], Democratic megadonor Fred Eychaner [$352,000] and the Service Employees International Union Healthcare PAC [$211,000].

Foxx’s race against Alvarez also attracted attention from billionaire George Soros, who backed a slate of prosecutors across the nation who ran on platforms that included decrying coercive policing tactics, sentencing and bail reforms. Illinois Safety & Justice, a political action committee funded by Soros, spent $555,000 on a direct mail campaign supporting Foxx in 2016.

In his first campaign ad, Conway’s pitch to voters offers policy stances, albeit vague, that seem to indicate he is not opposed to issues that Foxx has highlighted, such as seeking alternatives to jail time for nonviolent offenders and the need to “get politics out of an office where it doesn’t belong,” a subtle swipe at the Smollett case.

Giangreco told the Sun-Times Foxx is still gearing up for the primary and hadn’t gauged the interest of major donors from the last cycle but said he expected the election to be a referendum on Foxx’s reform platform — and not just the Smollett case.

“Kim Foxx is a nationally recognized figure in criminal justice reform,” Giangreco said. “This is about [Conway] using his dad’s money to try to erase that record on real reform.

“We’re on a new path here, and if you want to see criminal justice reform in Cook County, this is a must-win race.”