Campaign finance update: Johnson and Vallas stockpile cash with less than a week to go

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Key Takeaways:

  • Vallas has a big lead in the money race. Vallas has raised more than $17.8 million since creating his campaign committee last year, while Johnson’s total fundraising currently sits at $10.1 million since the start of 2022. 
  • The trends we identified in our February analysis are still holding strong. Almost all of Johnson’s campaign cash comes from unions — especially teachers unions — while megadonations from wealthy individuals and the finance sector make up the majority of Vallas’s fundraising.
  • Johnson’s union support far exceeds Vallas’s, despite Vallas’s recent endorsements: Johnson has received more than $9.1 million from unions, compared to $1.5 million for Vallas. Meanwhile, executives from just two finance firms — Madison Dearborn and Citadel — have contributed about a seventh of Vallas’s cash. 
  • Vallas’s $100,100 loan to his campaign exploited the “self-funding loophole” for the runoff and allowed megadonations to keep flowing to both candidates. Willie Wilson triggered the loophole in the primary, but contribution caps were automatically reinstated for Johnson and Vallas for the runoff, prompting Vallas’s move.
  • More than a third of Vallas’s cash came from contributions outside of Chicago. Most of these contributions came from donors residing elsewhere in Illinois, including Elmhurst, River Forest, Wilmette, and Winnetka. 
  • Super PACs are weighing in on the mayoral runoff to oppose Johnson and support Vallas. A pro-charter schools super PAC and a pro-Vallas super PAC have spent more than $1.1 million to oppose Brandon Johnson’s campaign. Another pro-charter super PAC has spent $59K in support of Vallas so far.
  • Dark money continues flowing into the mayoral race. The largest donor to the pro-Vallas super PAC mentioned above is a nonprofit that shares the same name and address, and there’s no way to tell who’s funding the organization. The pro-charter super PAC spending in support of Paul Vallas has ties to a conservative 501(c)(4) group focused on school choice that was founded by Betsy DeVos. Read RFI Executive Director Alisa Kaplan’s op-ed in the Chicago Tribune on how to curb dark money in Illinois.
  • Small donor data for the runoff will be available in mid-April. Given candidates’ lackluster small donor fundraising during the primary, we don’t expect donations of $150 or less to make up a significant portion of Johnson or Vallas’s recent fundraising. 


The vast majority of Johnson’s cash still comes from unions


Contributions from teachers unions and other labor groups (including affiliated PACs) account for 90.41% (or $9.1 million) of Brandon Johnson’s total fundraising since the start of 2022. Teachers unions represent about 55% of his overall fundraising, translating to over $5.5 million contributed to Johnson’s campaign. Other labor groups – most notably SEIU – make up the other 36% or $3.6 million. Johnson has raised just $972K from non-union sources throughout his entire campaign.

Unlike donations from wealthy individuals or business interests, union contributions are largely composed of contributions from the groups’ members. 

It’s clear that Johnson, like Vallas, has benefitted from the lack of contribution caps during the runoff: his campaign received $1.2 million via a transfer from the Chicago Teachers Union – PAC on March 13th, which is his campaign’s single largest contribution ever. Similarly, a $750K donation from SEIU International PAC on March 27th is now the second largest contribution ever reported by his campaign. 

Small donor data is unfortunately unavailable for both candidates until mid-April, when the next quarterly campaign finance reports are due. Our guess? Small donors are unlikely to have much of an impact on the mayoral runoff, just like during the primary. Johnson raised just $8.9K from contributions of up to $150 during the last quarter of 2022 (the most recent available data). His campaign may raise more money from small donors during the current quarter, but it’s unlikely to make up a significant proportion of his overall fundraising.

Johnson’s Top Overall DonorsAmount Contributed since 1/1/22
Chicago Teachers Union – PAC and Chicago Teachers Union$2,283,927.33
American Federation of Teachers COPE – Voluntary A/C$2,186,245.96
SEIU Healthcare IL IN (including PAC)$1,534,673.5
Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE$940,100
SEIU International PAC$750,000


Megadonations continue pouring into Vallas’s campaign coffers 

Paul Vallas is still raising vast sums from wealthy individuals. Just fifty-four wealthy contributors of $50K or more represent about 50% (or $8.9 million) of Vallas’s overall fundraising since entering the mayoral race. Vallas has also received contributions of $50K or more from labor groups, investment and development firms, and other PACs totalling another $2.1 million. In total, 62.17% of Vallas’s overall campaign cash comes from megacontributions of $50K or more.

The finance sector dominates Vallas’s fundraising, claiming 16 of his top 25 donors. $2.4 million — about 1/7th of his fundraising so far — comes from employees of just two firms, hedge fund Citadel and private equity firm Madison Dearborn.

Vallas’s recent fundraising also reveals the inroads his campaign has made with labor groups: two of his top overall donors (as seen in the table below) are the Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC and LiUNA Chicago Laborers’ District Council PAC, which contributed $500K and $400K to his campaign on March 22nd and 25th, respectively. Labor groups have contributed more than $1.5 million to Vallas’s campaign for mayor. 

Another interesting tidbit from our analysis: 36.49% of Vallas’s contributions are from outside of Chicago. That translates to more than $6.5 million raised from non-Chicago sources. Many of these donors reside elsewhere in Illinois, though Vallas (like Johnson) has supporters throughout the United States. Elmhurst, River Forest, Wilmette, and Winnetka were the most popular locations for Vallas supporters outside of the city.

As mentioned in the previous section, we do not expect next month’s quarterly campaign finance reports to reveal new trends in small donor support for Vallas. Vallas raised just $13.5K from contributions of up to $150 during the last quarter of 2022.

Vallas’s Top Overall DonorsAmount Contributed since 4/8/22
Michael and Rosalind Keiser $900,000
Craig Duchossois$760,000
Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC$500,000
Paul J Finnegan (tie)$400,000
Timothy Sullivan (tie)$400,000
LiUNA Chicago Laborers’ District Council PAC (tie, misspelled in filing as “Luna”)$400,000


Super PACs weigh in on the mayoral race with Vallas as the main beneficiary; dark money rises

With under a week to go until Election Day, super PACs have gone all in for Paul Vallas. In total, PACs and super PACs have spent more than $1.2 million on mailers, digital and TV ads, and texting to oppose Brandon Johnson’s campaign. Just under $65K in independent expenditures supporting Paul Vallas have also been reported in the last few weeks. 

The top super PAC spender so far is the INCS Action Independent Committee ($617K), which is affiliated with the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. The super PAC’s largest donor is James S. Frank, the former CEO of Wheels, Inc. Frank has given more than $4.6 million to the INCS Action Independent Committee and has also contributed $225K directly to Vallas’s campaign. The INCS Action Independent Committee spent an additional $63K on independent expenditures opposing Johnson’s campaign during the primary. 

The second largest spender is Priorities Chicago PAC ($548K), which was created on March 10th by a political consultant who was previously tied to a different pro-Chuy García super PAC during the primary

The super PAC’s largest donor is a nonprofit with the exact same name and address, and there’s no way to tell who’s funded the organization. Priorities Chicago PAC similarly received $170K from a group called “Better Chicago Future Inc” (PO Box in Bethesda) on March 16th. The actual source of those contributions also remains unclear. Interestingly, a group with almost the exact same name – “Better Chicago Future, Inc.” (PO Box in Philadelphia) – is the sole donor to a different super PAC called the Chicago Leadership Committee, which made independent expenditures in support of Paul Vallas during the primary. It is unclear whether the two groups are related. 

The Illinois Federation for Children PAC is another complicated super PAC: its most recent contribution (for $65K) is from the American Federation for Children Action Fund Inc., which is listed online as a 527 organization. The American Federation for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit founded by Betsy DeVos that has spent money in races nationwide to support candidates in favor of charter schools. The American Federation for Children, in turn, is associated with the Alliance for School Choice, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Idaho saw similar spending by groups affiliated with the American Federation of Children during the midterms last year; read the story here.

The only other independent expenditures currently reported were made by a PAC called Law and Order and by Friends of Nicholas Sposato, the candidate committee for Ald. Sposato (38th). Sposato endorsed Vallas shortly after he advanced to the runoff. Law and Order is run by former judicial and 45th Ward aldermanic candidate John Garrido. The PAC has spent $25K to support Paul Vallas and oppose Brandon Johnson so far, and Sposato’s committee spent an additional $2.4K on texting to support Paul Vallas earlier this week. 

NameFiling DateAmount SpentPurposeSupport/OpposeCandidate
INCS Action Independent Committee3/15/23$359,000.00DigitalOpposeBrandon Johnson
INCS Action Independent Committee3/17/23$258,000.00TVOpposeBrandon Johnson
Priorities Chicago PAC3/20/23$320,000.00TVOpposeBrandon Johnson
Illinois Federation for Children PAC3/24/23$59,385.00Digital MediaSupportPaul Vallas
Law and Order3/27/23$2,825MailingSupportPaul Vallas
Law and Order3/27/23$2,825MailingOpposeBrandon Johnson
Priorities Chicago PAC3/28/23$228,000TVOpposeBrandon Johnson
Illinois Policy PAC3/28/23$48,000PhoneOpposeBrandon Johnson
Friends of Nicholas Sposato3/29/23$2,478.61Voter contact via textSupportPaul Vallas
Law and Order3/30/23$19,667PrintingOpposeBrandon Johnson



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