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Lightfoot creates new PAC to scare off opponents

Aldermen who voted with Mayor Rahm Emanuel got support from a super PAC created to re-elect Emanuel and boost his City Council majority. Now, Lightfoot is following in her predecessor’s footsteps.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to the crowd after taking the oath of office in May.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot waves to the crowd after taking the oath of office in May. In her speech that day, she challenged members of the City Council that it was time for reform. But it also will be time for tough financial choices, and a new political action committee is poised to help aldermen who help Lightfoot.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has created a new political action committee to scare off opponents amid concern that her City Council majority could shrink when it comes time to cut spending and raise taxes to erase a $1 billion shortfall.

Lightfoot will talk about the financial mess she inherited and the painful road ahead during an Aug. 29 speech at the Harold Washington Library that is expected to be carried live on “all major local TV and radio newscasts.”

That’s when the City Council majority that Lightfoot has used so far to deliver ethics reform, predictable work scheduling and install her City Council leadership team could begin to evaporate.

When aldermen walked the tax plank to help former Mayor Rahm Emanuel chip away at Chicago’s $28 billion pension crisis, Emanuel literally had their back.

They got tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Chicago Forward, a super PAC created to re-elect the mayor and strengthen his City Council majority.

Now, Lightfoot is following in her predecessor’s footsteps. She’s created a new political action committee she calls “Light PAC” that shares office space at 100 W. Kinzie with Lightfoot for Chicago.

Light PAC is chaired by Laurel Appell Lipkin, a mayoral friend who has known Lightfoot since the 1980s, when they both worked in Washington D.C. The treasurer is Linda Loving, another Lightfoot friend and supporter. The custodian is Jennifer Khosla, who worked on Lightfoot’s mayoral campaign.

Dave Mellett, Lightfoot’s full-time political director, said the new PAC was created Monday to allow Lightfoot for Chicago to be used exclusively to re-elect the mayor.

All of Lightfoot’s other political activities will be paid for through “Light PAC,” where the fundraising ground rules are more liberal.

Political action committees can accept maximum donations of $10,800 from individuals and $23,200 from corporations, labor organizations, associations or political party committees. Other PACS or candidate political committees can donate $57,800.

In contrast, as a candidate political committee, Lightfoot for Chicago is limited to $5,800 from individuals and $11,600 from corporations, labor organizations and associations. The limit for candidate political committees or PACs is the same: $57,800.

“Our political activity in the next couple years will not be about the mayor’s re-election. It’ll be more broad and about supporting her agenda and supporting candidates who are in line with that agenda. That’s why we have two distinct committees. It’s just separating the mayor’s re-election from her political activity,” Mellett said.

“She wants to make sure that we have elected officials who are supporting the city of Chicago, government reform and investing in all neighborhoods.”

Mellett was asked to outline the mayor’s plans to put money into the new PAC.

“We don’t have any fundraisers scheduled at the moment. We’re looking at a few dates in the fall,” he said.

Lightfoot raised $2.7 million during the second quarter of this year, spent $1.3 million and still has $1.8 million in cash on hand to intimidate opponents of her ambitious legislative agenda.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this summer that Lightfoot closed out the month of June with a flurry of fundraisers that allowed her to accept contributions in big chunks before fundraising caps lifted for the mayoral race were reinstated on July 1.

Since taking office May 20, Lightfoot has taken fundraising trips to Los Angeles and New York City — with stops to have dinner with Oprah Winfrey and to appear on Stephen Colbert’s late-night talk show.

While headlining a Palm Springs fundraiser for former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s PAC in a town with an all-LGBTQ City Council, Lightfoot prospected for her own donors among California’s upscale gay community.

Those contacts are expected to pay off handsomely in the future for Chicago’s first openly gay mayor.

But Chicago’s movers-and-shakers have already lined up so squarely behind Lightfoot, it allowed the new mayor to repay, with interest, the $250,000 loan she made to her own campaign — and still have a substantial war chest to play with.