‘Lewis for mayor’ is a fundraising force to be reckoned with

Paul Kersey

Labor law expert, occasional smart-aleck, defender of the free society.

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
July 17, 2014

‘Lewis for mayor’ is a fundraising force to be reckoned with

For years the left has complained about the influence that money has on politics. And almost without fail, they have focused on money held and used by private businesses. But money is money, whether it comes from companies or some other source, and it can be used to buy political influence, or political office, just...

For years the left has complained about the influence that money has on politics. And almost without fail, they have focused on money held and used by private businesses. But money is money, whether it comes from companies or some other source, and it can be used to buy political influence, or political office, just the same.

Big unions have big bankrolls of their own, and can play political games as well as anyone. Chicago is getting a big reminder of that right now, as Karen Lewis uses the resources of the Chicago Teachers Union to make her own power play for the mayor’s office.

A recent Chicago Sun-Times/We Ask America poll shows that in a head-to-head race for Chicago mayor versus incumbent Rahm Emanuel, Lewis would win today by a nine-point margin. Upon release of the poll, Lewis, who hadn’t warmed much to the idea of a mayoral campaign, began changing her tune. She has since appointed an informal exploratory committee.

If Lewis takes the plunge, she can count on the full backing of the union she heads – Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, which represents 20,000 Chicago Public School teachers, nearly all of whom pay union dues exceeding $1,000 per year. And while some of that money will be bucked up to the Illinois Federation of Teachers, or IFT, (CTU’s statewide affiliate) Lewis serves as an executive vice president of that group, and can likely look forward to its assistance.

Emanuel is a well funded mayoral candidate. He has $5 million in his own campaign account and another $1 million recently raised by an allied super PAC. The New Republic’s Jason Zengerle calls this “Scrooge McDuck-like money.” But as CTU president, Lewis has access to her own tub of gold coins: According to CTU’s tax forms, the union took in more than $29 million in revenue in 2011 (the most recent year we were able to find). And IFT reported total revenue of more than $21 million in its 2013 LM-2 report.

As a union president running for public office, Lewis would be under sharp scrutiny. She probably would not be able to do anything blatant like transfer union money to her own campaign, even if the money is filtered through the union’s PAC first. But the union has its own PR operation that could easily be put to work on projects that would be helpful to a “Lewis for mayor” campaign.

Lewis’ movement towards a mayoral campaign puts earlier union decisions – like its vehement response to school building closures and the September 2012 teachers strike, in a whole new light. For years, the union’s activities have put Emanuel on the defensive. Should Lewis run for his office, we can look forward to more of the same. If anything the rhetoric could escalate – if such a thing is possible after Lewis called Emanuel the “murder mayor.”

The union has one more asset – not exactly monetary but nonetheless very valuable, and that is the children who attend Chicago Public Schools.

CTU and Karen Lewis have formidable resources: a bankroll that dwarfs Emanuel’s and thousands of teachers it can recruit as foot soldiers. A “Lewis for mayor” campaign should be taken seriously.

Image source. 

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