Outside money flowing into 17th District race

July 4, 2012

The presidential campaigns may be dominating the Quad-City airwaves today, but independent groups and party committees are lining up with plenty of money to pour into area congressional races.

In particular, they have their eye on Illinois’ 17th District race, in which U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., and Democrat hopeful Cheri Bustos are squaring off in a closely watched contest.

The House Majority PAC and Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, announced this week they are working together to reserve $19.2 million in television ad time across the country, with $669,000 of it going to a trio of markets in the 17th District.

The reservations come on top of the political arms for both parties in the House of Representatives reserving time for their own ads this fall in the Quad-Cities, Peoria and Rockford.

Both parties are expecting a slew of independent advertising in the race.

“This is going to be a full-fledged battle, and we’re going to be prepared,” said Terry Schilling, the Republican freshman’s campaign manager.

The 2012 election cycle is expected to be the most expensive in history. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, as well as the Federal Election Commission’s interpretation of campaign finance rules, have opened the door to a flood of corporate and union money, some of which can now go undisclosed.

Thus far, the advertising in the Quad-City market mostly has been centered on the presidential race, with President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney’s campaigns the most visible. Crossroads GPS, a group affiliated with Karl Rove, also has run spots on the presidential race in the Quad-Cities. Crossroads is a nonprofit advocacy group that’s not required to identify its donors.

The House Majority PAC’s reservation is the first move by a “super PAC” in the 17th District race, although it likely won’t be the last. Super PACs, which are allowed to take unlimited contributions, can get involved in races, but they must operate independently of campaigns. Many of the House Majority PAC’s largest contributions this cycle — those more than $200,000 — came from unions representing teachers, firefighters and letter carriers, as well as Connecticut hedge fund manager Donald Sussman, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

“From Day One, House Republicans have pursued an agenda that is extreme and out of touch — and House Majority PAC will be on TV to hold them accountable,” Alixandria Lapp, executive director for the group, said in a statement.

The PAC is partnering with SEIU. In the Quad-Cities, the union said it set aside $185,000 in ad time for the 17th District race. Meanwhile, $232,000 worth of time has been reserved in Rockford and another $252,000 in Peoria.

Reserving time isn’t the same as purchasing it. In the past, groups have reserved time only to back out later. But with the flood of money expected in both the presidential and other races, early reservations can lock in time for groups to ensure their message gets out in the fall.

The only independent group to have run advertising in Quad-Cities targeting the 17th District this cycle is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a tax-exempt group that isn’t required to identify its donors. It spent $125,000 in the Quad-Cities on television ads this spring praising Schilling for “standing up for Illinois jobs” by fighting regulations and seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“I am beyond confident that regardless of what outside spending takes place, that voters know the truth, that they know whose side Bobby Schilling is on, and it’s not on the side of working-class families,” Allison Jaslow, Bustos’ campaign manager, said.

The new moves come on top of a $1.1 million reservation of time in the Quad-Cities and Cedar Rapids television markets that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made back in April. That time could be used on either the 17th District race or in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. There, Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, is facing off against Republican John Archer of Bettendorf.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, has reserved $722,000 worth of time in the Quad-City market. That, too, could be spent on either race. The reservation came after the NRCC’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, downplayed Bustos’ chances in the 17th District race.