With Lewis out of the race, campaign funds in limbo

By Evan Garcia

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has dropped out of the mayoral race. So what will happen to the money her exploratory committee raised?

Lewis has a few choices, according to political experts. The money can be returned to donors, donated to a charitable organization or contributed to another political committee. She could also decide to do nothing.

“There’s always the option of them letting the money sit in the committee for future use,” said Jim Tenuto, assistant executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Lewis has raised just over $57,000 and spent nearly $38,000 on expenses such as advertising, office supplies and rent since her committee was established in August.

The first order of business is to pay current bills. “At this point, the priority is closing out the cost of the exploratory process,” said Emma Tai, spokeswoman for Lewis’ campaign. “That means printing fees, legal fees and administrative costs associated with setting up an office.”

Next on Lewis’ agenda will likely be collecting the $40,000 loan she made to her own campaign. If Lewis does that, there won’t be a lot of money left to worry about.

Tai declined to speculate on other plans for the campaign funds, stating that it was Lewis’ decision. “If she wants that to be public information, she’ll let us know,” Tai said.

Lewis is currently a patient at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after undergoing surgery for a malignant brain tumor discovered last week.

With Lewis out of the running, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief competition this February is Alderman Bob Fioretti from the 2nd Ward. Shortly after Lewis pulled out of the race, Fioretti issued a statement praying for her recovery and appealing for contributions to help in his fight to unseat Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s well-funded incumbent.

Michael Kolenc, Fioretti’s campaign manager, said the alderman and Lewis share many of the same positions like calling for an elected school board and increasing the minimum wage to $15.

“Karen has gone on the record in the past to say that Bob would make a great mayor,” said Kolenc. “They are friends that have worked together in the past. At this time, we’re just praying for her health and nothing more.”

The largest donor to Lewis’ committee, the American Federation of Teachers, said it has not yet endorsed Fioretti. It contributed $30,000 to Lewis’ campaign last month and was ready to contribute as much as $1 million if she decided to run.

Michelle Ringuette, an official with the AFT, said the union will most likely support whomever the Chicago Teachers Union endorses. That means if Lewis, who heads the CTU, endorses Fioretti, then the AFT would follow suit.

Dick Simpson, professor of political science at University of Illinois at Chicago and former alderman of the 44th Ward, is one of Lewis’ contributors. He donated $5,000 to her campaign last month.

He is not particularly concerned about getting his money back. “They’ll usually deduct the expenses and then return the money to each contributor or ask if they’d like the money transferred to another campaign,” said Simpson.

Simpson said he hasn’t been contacted by the committee regarding his contribution, but he anticipates Lewis’ camp shifting its political support, if not its campaign money, to Fioretti.