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2nd Congressional District candidate, former state Rep. Robin Kelly, speaks at press conference accepting former opposing candidate state Sen. Napoleon Harris' endorsement Jan. 30. 

Super PAC campaign spending: More money, more problems?

by Matthew McClellan
Feb 21, 2013

Matthew McClellan/MEDILL

2nd Congressional District candidate and former state Rep. Robin Kelly speaks at press conference about her stance on stricter gun control measures Jan. 30.

As the special election primary draws nearer, the race for former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat gets hotter between Democratic front-runners.

Former Congressman Debbie Halvorson has been the subject of targeted ads by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA super PAC regarding her stance against an assault weapons ban and her favorable rating from the National Rifle Association.

Halvorson has come out blasting Bloomberg and rivalRobin Kelly, accusing them of being in cahoots with one another to purchase the targeted ads aimed at her and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson. Hutchison recently dropped out of the race and endorsed Kelly.

Bloomberg and Kelly have denied being in communication to produce the ads.

A spokesman for Bloomberg’s super PAC said the New York City mayor, who co-founded the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, is committed to getting guns off the streets.

Kelly, a former state representative, said that Halvorson’s accusations are unsubstantiated.

Kelly has said repeatedly that if she wins she intends to stand behind the president and be an ally in getting legislation passed on his gun issues, which she has said are her issues as well.

Kyle Kondik, at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Bloomberg’s targeted ads could affect the outcome of the race, as Bloomberg has had success in other campaigns where gun issues are prevalent, targeting candidates such as Halvorson who have opposed gun control measures.

“It’s not a liability,” Kondik said of Bloomberg’s ads in the 2nd District. If Kelly ends up winning, then Bloomberg’s intervention will have the intended effect, Kondik said.

But contact between Bloomberg and Kelly would be in violation of the 2010 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Court held that independent political expenditures by corporations and unions constitute protected speech under the First Amendment, and therefore, the government is prohibited from restricting such expenditures as long as there’s no contact or coordination between the political figure and the independent body.

It’s natural to suspect that a political figure and PAC are working together, Kondik said, but at this point, Halvorson’s accusations are just hearsay.

“They don’t want to do things to get them put in orange jumpsuits,” Kondik said of Kelly and Bloomberg. There would be consequences if they’re working together, “but it’d be hard to prove.”

State Sen. Donne Trotter, who dropped out of the race after being charged with having a gun at an O’Hare security checkpoint, said he doesn’t think Bloomberg’s campaign spending is a good or bad thing for the district.

“He’s just stating his position,” Trotter said. Residents in the district are ultimately going to vote for a “candidate that speaks to their issues.”

And while Bloomberg is speaking to one particular issue, Trotter said there are a myriad of other issues residents of the district are concerned about: jobs, education, high unemployment and foreclosure.

Violence is an issue that residents in the district deal with every day, Trotter said, but “violence doesn’t take up all their day.”

Trotter said the focus on spending in this race is because it’s the only race happening right now. In the grand scheme of things, expenditures in this race are a drop in the bucket in comparison to the inordinate and ludicrous amount spent in a general election, Trotter said.

Despite his criticisms, Trotter said it’s not unethical for an outsider like Bloomberg to be concerned about the outcome of this race, because every vote made by Jackson’s replacement will affect the entire country.

According to FEC documents, Bloomberg’s super PAC has spent over $2 million this year in support of Kelly’s campaign, while spending over $1 million in opposition to Halvorson’s campaign.

In the last two weeks the super PAC has spent more than $135,000 in direct mail and Internet ads opposing Halvorson.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) is another candidate in the race who is in favor of stricter gun control measures but has criticized Bloomberg’s ads.

Beale said he was not sure why Bloomberg chose to support Kelly. Beale said Kelly has a “meek background in gun control,” unlike him, noting that he helped pass gun legislation in Chicago in 2010.

“He put his money behind the wrong person,” Beale said of Bloomberg.

In a campaign ad released this week, Beale criticized the New York City mayor and accused him of trying to buy the election.

“Why is he in the race when he doesn’t know what’s going on in the district,” Beale said.

Beale said allowing someone from New York to come in and buy the election, who doesn’t know what’s happening in the community and in the streets, is “an insult to the people of the 2nd Congressional District.”

And while gun violence has been a polarizing issue in the district, Beale said that job creation is the No. 1 issue.

“I’ve created thousands of jobs,” Beale said; he has been pushing job creation during his time as an alderman.

Beale said Kelly is a “one-issue candidate,” while he is the “only candidate fighting for public safety, education and jobs.”

Despite the focus spent on Kelly, Halvorson and Bloomberg, Beale said in the final days leading up to the primary, he would continue to get the word out that he is the most qualified person to replace Jackson.

The special election primary is Tuesday, and winners will move on to special election April 9.