Senate rivals find silver lining in Hull's spending

July 17, 2003

BY LYNN SWEET Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON--The Illinois Democratic Senate hopefuls facing the self-financed candidacy of Blair Hull are taking advantage of a new federal law designed to level the financial playing field, with state Comptroller Dan Hynes benefitting most.

The provision, known as the "millionaire's amendment," is part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law that became effective last year and was triggered by the millions of dollars Hull is pouring into his own race.

Based on a formula for each state and the amount of Hull's spending, the federal contribution limits for individual Democratic Senate primary donors in Illinois are lifted from $2,000 per election to $12,000 per primary and general election contest.

The Illinois Democratic Senate primary is the first contest in the country--and the only one so far--where the millionaire's amendment has come into play. According to newly filed reports and the individual campaigns:

*Hynes was able to take the most advantage of the clause. Hynes had 248 contributors writing checks for $2,000 to $9,999, seven donors giving between $10,000 and $11,999, and 22 people who gave the maximum $12,000.

*Attorney Gery Chico had 252 donors who gave between $2,000 and $9,999, one who gave between $10,000 and $11,999, and four contributors who gave $12,000.

*State Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago) reported 60 people gave between $2,000 and $9,999, eight donors giving between $10,000 and $11,999, and 13 who wrote checks for $12,000.

*Health care industry executive Joyce Washington had 10 donors who contributed between $3,000 and $6,600.

Hynes, Chico and Obama have between $1 million and $1.5 million each in their war chests. Each campaign has a circle of wealthy donors they can go back to for another hit on their wallets.

Hull has said he will spend up to $40 million on his campaign, with $20 million earmarked for the Illinois primary March 16, 2004. As of June 30, Hull had spent $3.5 million outright on his federal race, but that does not tell the whole story. Hull has also written checks for more than $1 million to help at least 42 Democrats across Illinois running for state and local office, as well as Democratic county organizations and political action committees. About $459,000 of that was in loans and contributions to Gov. Blagojevich's 2002 campaign.