Allies of Mayor Laurie Lightfoot are raising money from the new fund

As Mayor Laurie Lightfoot ramps up her re-election bid, her close allies have launched a new campaign fund that is independent of how much money contributors can contribute and who they are — Lightfoot’s limits must follow.

Committee 77, run by Lightfoot’s longtime top adviser, is allowed to accept unlimited funds, including from city contractors who are strictly bound by city ethics rules to contribute to Lightfoot’s campaign fund or Lightfoot’s political action committee.

The move follows in the footsteps of Lightfoot’s predecessor, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose allies built a massive campaign fund that raised more than $5 million in one year to help Emanuel win a second term.

Establishment of a new independent expenditure committee in October highlights the political fight that Lightfoot’s supporters can expect in the coming months, as well as the significant loopholes that exist in campaign finance laws and city ethics rules that are designed to limit the influence of political supporters on the actions of government elected officials.

Emanuel served as mayor for two terms repeatedly bypassed he signed narrowly worded executive orders that barred lobbyists, city contractors, and individuals seeking to do business with the city or its affiliated agencies from giving more than $1,500 to Chicago’s mayor, aldermen, and other city elected officials.

Lightfoot has maintained ethics rules that exceed statewide limits that prevent her campaign fund and affiliated PACs from receiving more than $6,000 from individuals, $12,000 from corporations or labor groups and $59,900 from other PACs — unless a candidate gives more for $100,000 on his or her own company, after which all restrictions are lifted.

While the Committee of 77 has no limits on how much money it can receive and from whom, as an independent spending committee it cannot coordinate with Lightfoot or any political campaigns. He has already received $100,000 from politically-affiliated companies — $80,000 from a ping-pong company whose chairman also heads an information technology company that does business with the city, and $20,000 from a South Side construction company that includes on the city’s contractor list and also works at the Obama Presidential Center.

Additionally, the committee is chaired by Sean Harden, who also heads the nonprofit Friend Health, which recently opened a health center in Woodlawn. expected to receive $8 million in tax increment financing incentives from the city.

Dave Mellett, executive director of Committee 77 and a longtime senior adviser to Lightfoot, said Friend Health is a nonprofit and that Harden has no ownership interest in the medical center. Harden referred questions to Mellett, who instead issued a statement saying the committee would “work independently to ensure that Mayor Lightfoot is elected to a second term.”

Still, Harden’s presence as chairman of the independent spending committee underscores the intersection of money, government and politics at City Hall.

Mellet did not respond to questions about how the committee was formed.

But a recent committee flyer obtained by the Chicago Tribune claimed that the 77 fund was “Created by allies of Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot with the primary mission of supporting her re-election on February 28, 2023. Most of the funds raised by our committee will be dedicated to that mission.” The flyer also says the committee “has the support of Lightfoot for Chicago,” but notes that “we are not allowed to coordinate with the campaign.”

Lightfoot spokeswoman Christina Freundlich did not respond to questions about the committee and said the mayor “has no control over any outside groups or organizations.”

The name of the committee is probably derived from 77 official districts of Chicago.

Although Lightfoot may not have directly benefited from the Committee of 77, it came at a critical moment in her political career.

Monday is the first day candidates can formally file for mayor, and Lightfoot faces strong headwinds to win a second term. As much as how much nine other major candidates announced their intention to run against her in February.

The latest campaign fundraising reports, released a month ago, showed Lightfoot had more money in her campaign fund than all of her opponents except wealthy business owner Willie Wilson, who is largely self-funding his campaign. But while her opponents failed to bring in big money from political supporters, Lightfoot still not secured such a huge financial advantage as to scare away any competitors.

Lightfoot’s main political committee, Lightfoot for Chicago, raised about $1 million between July and September, but spent more than $607,007 during the same period, company disclosure documents show. About $2.9 million was on hand, according to the documents. Her other campaign committee, Light PAC, which was formed to support her City Council allies, raised less than $11,000 and had $3,000 in the bank as of the most recent quarter, campaign filings show.

When it launched in 2019, Light PAC was modeled after Chicago Forward, a campaign fund created by Emanuel allies that aimed to help the mayor and his political supporters. But as a political action committee formed by Lightfoot supporters, Light PAC faces the same donation rules as Lightfoot for Chicago. Light PAC meets the Chicago Board of Ethics’ criteria as the mayor’s authorized political fundraising committee because it sufficiently interacted or coordinated with her official campaign staff.

So far, Committee 77 reported raising $20,000 from UJAMAA, a South Side construction company located on list of city contractors posted by the city.

A day after the investment, Lightfoot’s office announced in a news release that the company will serve as the general contractor on an affordable, mixed-income, mixed-use development in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood built on land that is now vacant. It is also part of the joint venture building the Obama Presidential Center.

UJAMAA did not give Lightfoot for Chicago any money. UJAMAA president Jimmy Akintande did not respond to messages seeking comment.

In addition to the $20,000 from UJAMAA, Committee 77 also disclosed a contribution from Killerspin, a table tennis company whose chairman, Robert Blackwell Jr., does business with the city through Electronic Knowledge Interchange, an IT company he also owns. chairs.

Killerspin was not involved with Lightfoot’s campaign committees, nor Blackwell’s individually, according to state filings. EKI is paid nearly $50 million from the city both before and during the Lightfoot administration for IT services.

Senior city finance official Joel Flores said website review stating that EKI is “the city’s go-to supplier when it comes to critical time” and created three payment processing platforms. According to the review, EKI developed a utility payment website, a fee management website and a water bill discount website.

It is unclear what relationship, if any, Lightfoot has with Blackwell. But records released by City Hall show that South Side Ald. David Moore, 17, tried to introduce Blackwell and Lightfoot to each other in March 2020.

“As a favor, I’d like you to meet Robert Blackwell of EKI-Digital, the official name of the company is Electronic Knowledge Interchange. Just want you to listen to him, don’t commit (just) listen and take it from there,” Moore wrote in the text, which also asked Lightfoot to attend a Simeon women’s basketball event and talk to him, allegedly about “2023”. reference to the election cycle.

Lightfoot did not refer directly to Blackwell in her response, saying she would consider attending the pep rally and “as to the other items on your list. We’ll talk today and tomorrow.”

Blackwell did not respond to Tribune messages seeking comment.

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