Could it be that a Super PAC, led by NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped determine the election result in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District Democratic Primary? Bloomberg’s Super PAC, Independence USA, spent $2.2 million in a race that was won by Robin Kelly. Kelly was supported by the Super PAC.
What is a Super PAC?
Super PACs are organizations that may not make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties. They can, however, engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns. Super PACs can also raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups, without any legal limit on donation size. Super PACs cannot coordinate directly with candidates or political parties. Super PACs may support particular candidacies. As stated before, Independence USA supported Robin Kelly. The organization also targeted former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson and Illinois State Senator Toi Hutchinson in their ads. Super PACs are protected by the First Amendment according to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Here are two examples of ads run by the Independence USA Super PAC.
Unofficial results of the 2nd Congressional District Primary (D)
Robin Kelly 30,799 votes 51.9%
Debbie Halvorson 14,525 votes 24.5%
Anthony Beale 6,255 votes 10.5%
Joyce Washington 2,542 votes 4.3%
Toi Hutchinson 1,598 votes 2.7%
Ernest Fenton 1,537 votes 2.6%
Turnout in the race was 15%. This is typical of a special election, but low considering that Congressional races have a turnout rate of 20-25%. Weather may have played a factor in the low turnout as it did snow throughout the District that day.
Was the outside influence of the Super PAC that powerful to be a factor in the election? Maybe. That’s the conventional wisdom, as many believed that former Congresswoman Halvorson had a strong chance to win this race. However, one must look at Halvorson’s recent electoral and campaign track record to realize that she was a weaker candidate than originally perceived.
Halvorson’s Congressional win in 2008 was in a Presidential year where Democrats ran successfully on the national, state, and local levels. Halvorson’s opponent that year, Martin Ozinga, was a Republican who came into the race late, as he was a replacement candidate when the original Republican nominee dropped from the race after winning his primary. Halvorson lost in 2010 to Republican Adam Kinzinger in her re-election bid which was punctuated by Republican victories nationally. Soon after, her former Congressional district was divided up through redistricting efforts by Illinois Democrats. She was no longer a resident of her previous district, the more rural/suburban white 11th. Halvorson was now a resident of the urban and black 2nd Congressional District. In 2012, she ran an ill-fated primary campaign against then Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Halvorson’s campaign relied heavily on door-to-door retail politics in areas of suburban and rural Will and Kankakee counties. Kelly, Washington, Beale, and Fenton all sent direct mailers to residents of all areas in the 2nd Congressional, but mostly in south Chicago and the south suburbs of Cook County. Halvorson did not. Halvorson’s campaign was doomed from the start. Coupled with the influx of Super PAC television ads, Halvorson faced an uphill battle.
What are your thoughts on this race? What are your thoughts on Super PACs and their influence in political campaigns?