Lawyers help fuel Hynes' Senate race

Associated Press

November 14, 2003, 2:17 PM CST

WASHINGTON -- In a crowded field of U.S. Senate candidates in Illinois, state Comptroller Dan Hynes stands out in at least one way: He's raised more money from lawyers this year than any active Senate candidate across the country.

Hynes received $521,089 from attorneys through September, according to an analysis of campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by a nonpartisan, Washington-based research group, the Center for Responsive Politics.

For Hynes, a Chicago Democrat who began fund-raising in March for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Peter Fitzgerald in 2004, that meant that about 19 percent of the $2.76 million in campaign cash he collected had come from lawyers.

Democratic and Republican campaign strategists alike have said they expect Illinois to be a major battleground in determining whether Democrats can regain control of the Senate.

For many attorneys, particularly those concerned about GOP efforts to limit class-action lawsuits and corporate damage awards, much is at stake over which party controls the Senate.

Robert Clifford, a former president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association who has personally given Hynes $12,000, said he has become a major Hynes fund-raiser.

"I happen to believe Hynes is the more electable of the candidates," he said.

Though Illinois polls have shown no clear-cut favorite in either party's primary, Hynes often comes up as a front-runner among Democrats and is the only candidate from about a dozen running from both parties who has won a statewide race.

"A lot of it has to do with people thinking Dan has a good shot at winning," Hynes spokeswoman Chris Mather of the attorney contributions.

She said Hynes has been critical of proposed caps on damage awards, but there has been no special effort, such as having a campaign committee for lawyers, to target attorneys for donations.

Mather said it should be no surprise that the 35-year-old Hynes, who is a Loyola Law School graduate and was a health care attorney before being elected comptroller in 1998, has demonstrated such fund-raising prowess.

"He's got 10 family members who are lawyers," she said.

Among Hynes' biggest boosters is his father, Thomas, a former president of the Illinois Senate and Cook County assessor who remains influential as a member of the Democratic National Committee and a Chicago ward committee man.

Altogether, family members have given Hynes slightly more than $100,000, according to Mather.

Hynes also benefits from a new federal campaign law that allows candidates like himself who are not independently wealthy to raise more money from individual donors than the basic $2,000 primary contribution limit when they face a candidate such as Chicago businessman Blair Hull, who is spending much of his personal fortune on the primary. The law allows Hynes to raise as much as $12,000 from individual donors.

Through September, Hynes had 346 contributors many of them attorneys who gave him a total of $1.79 million beyond what they could have under the $2,000 limit, Mather said.

The cash Hynes has received from lawyers is also impressive when weighed against some of his primary opponents. Gery Chico is the former chairman of a Chicago law firm and state Sen. Barack Obama is a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago.

Chico and Obama began their fund-raising last year. Chico has received about $271,000 from attorneys, nearly 10 percent of the $2.7 million he has raised. Obama has collected about $193,000 from attorneys, about 9 percent of his $2.17 million total.

Illinois Republican candidates hardly registered in fund-raising among attorneys. Businessman Andy McKenna Jr. led with $35,500, followed by investor Jack Ryan at $6,700, with none of the remaining handful cited by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Dan Allen, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which helps GOP candidates, suggested Hynes' unusually large support from attorneys could become a campaign issue if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

"It raises questions about who's he beholden to: The trial lawyers or the people of Illinois," he said.

Mather said Hynes is also among the leaders nationally for non-incumbent Senate candidates in fund-raising generally. She also said Hynes' support from attorneys covers all categories of lawyers, including corporate ones. She added that Hynes bars taking campaign contributions from those having contracts with his office.

Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune