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Lynn Sweet

Oberweis skates on thin ice

January 22, 2004

BY LYNN SWEET WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

GOP Senate hopeful Jim Oberweis' ice cream strategy is being carefully watched by his rivals -- and Democrats, should he be the nominee -- to see if he runs afoul of federal campaign finance rules that forbid pouring corporate assets into a political campaign.

He's playing it close to the line because he is deliberately piggybacking his political campaign on the name ID and marketing efforts of his growing ice cream empire. Oberweis is the political beneficiary of his dairy's advertising, since name ID means a lot in the race. He is coming close to crossing a line.

When Oberweis, chairman of the Oberweis Dairy in Aurora and president of a mutual fund and money management firm, ran for the Senate in the 2002 primary, his family-run ice cream stores numbered 18.

Two years later, the Oberweis name is better known, thanks to his dual marketing strategy of running for the Senate again at the same time he is expanding his ice cream chain. Now there are 31 Oberweis ice cream parlors (there were 32; one just closed). Twenty-seven of the outlets are in Illinois.

Oberweis so far has thrown six campaign events at the Oberweis scoop joints -- giving away cones with his high-fat-content ice cream -- and plans to do more than 20 next month, said Bill Kenyon, his campaign director.

In 2003, the dairy company for the first time started running TV ads. Now, company spokesman Mark Vance said, ads are running in four Downstate markets where the company is trying to drum up "home delivery" business, he said.

Oberweis' campaign logo uses an ice cream cone, and his Web site boasts of an "ice cream for life" sweepstakes.

Kenyon said the campaign is paying full retail price for the cones.

Hull hires Rush kin

Last year, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), an ordained minister, endorsed Democratic Senate hopeful Blair Hull. After that, I wrote in this column about how Hull, who is on track to spend $20 million of his own money for the March Illinois primary, had made a donation to Rush's church, the Beloved Community Christian Church in Englewood.

Now, more dots to connect. It turns out that Hull, after the endorsement, hired Marlon Rush, Rush's half brother, for a $12,000-a-month job as deputy manager of his Senate campaign.

Hull staff perks

Hull is making health care a centerpiece of his campaign. So he deserves a compliment for offering health insurance for his staff of 40-plus and paying their entire premium.

Rep. Jessica Jackson?

The toddler President Bush hugged Tuesday night as he made his way down the aisle of the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address was Jessica, the daughter of Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.). She will be 4 on March 13 and told her dad she wanted to meet Bush, said Jackson, a blistering critic of the Bush White House.

"I think she thinks he is Prince Charming,'' Jackson said.

So little Jessica spent hours getting her hair done and got outfitted for a new dress. Jackson, as is his custom, staked out a prime spot in the chamber in the morning. Then he realized he was up against a rule banning children from the House floor.

Jackson told me he went all the way up to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) for help. Jackson said Hastert told him he would look the other way.

Will Rahm walk the Wesley talk?

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) is a chief adviser for the surging Democratic campaign of retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Over the weekend, Clark, a former lobbyist, challenged rival Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to disclose all meetings he has had with special interests and said he would establish an "openness doctrine'' if he won the White House. Emanuel's been reluctant to share his full schedule with me, but I hope the time he is spending with Clark will trigger a change of heart.





 
 












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