Blackjack king outspends Dem rival 4-1 in Senate bid

July 16, 2003

BY SCOTT FORNEK Political Reporter

$19,261.09 a day.

That's how much millionaire investor M. Blair Hull has spent on his Democratic campaign for the U.S. Senate over the past three months alone.

The primary is more than eight months away, but the political novice and former blackjack ace has already spent $3.5 million since he entered the race last year.

That's nearly double the $1.8 million the other seven Democrats and Republicans in the race have spent combined. And it's nearly four times the $914,480 former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico, the No. 2 spender, dished out.

"Wow, wow, wow, wow," said Michael Golden, Chico's campaign manager, when told of Hull's spending. "That is something."

Those were the highlights in campaign documents filed Tuesday by candidates in the race to succeed Illinois Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. The reports detail money raised and spent from April through June.

Of the non-millionaire Democrats in the race, state Comptroller Dan Hynes raised the most over the past three months: $947,662, bringing his campaign total to $1,844,727. Hynes had spent $284,608 since last year and had $1,560,226 left in the bank.

State Sen. Barack Obama raised $878,359 during the period, bringing his total to $1,412,224. Obama had spent $325,347 and had more than $1 million in the bank.

Chico raised $477,751 over the past three months, bringing his total to $2,258,317. Chico had spent $914,480 since entering the race and had more than $1.3 million left.

Health care official Joyce Washington raised $95,811 in contributions during the period and donated another $230,000 of her own to her campaign. Washington had spent $62,135 since entering the race and had $439,293 left.

But it was Hull's spending that had others reeling. He has told the Federal Election Commission he plans to spend $40 million of his own money, making it the most expensive in state history.

Hull, 60, parlayed $25,000 in 1970s blackjack winnings into a trading firm that sold for $531 million in 1999. He has already dumped nearly $6 million into his campaign fund and spent $3,524,106 of it--$1,752,758 in the past three months.

So, how do you spend that much this early?

How about $751,750 for television and radio commercials to launch the campaign Downstate? And $23,631 in newspaper ads?

Add in $13,971 on yard signs and other campaign placards. And another $3,027 on banners and $880 on bumper stickers.

But the bulk of the money was spent on people. Hull had 33 people on the payroll during the three- month period, although his campaign spokesman says more than half were temporary workers or interns.

Despite that large workforce, Hull spent another $221,265.64 on more than a dozen different political consulting firms and another $85,500 on computer consultants.

"As a first-time candidate, Blair is building his campaign from the ground up," said Susan Lagana, Hull's campaign spokeswoman. "But more importantly, this shows Blair is committed to giving Illinois a senator who will answer only to them."

Hull's rivals tried to downplay the power of his spending.

"Money may talk, but message wins," Golden said. "That's why Gery Chico will be the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2004."

Spending and fund-raising were much more modest on the Republican side, which did not begin until Fitzgerald's surprise decision in April not to seek a second term.

Four GOP millionaires have officially entered the race.

Andy McKenna Jr., president of the Schwarz Paper Co., raised $546,712 during the period and spent $82,703.

Investmentbanker-turned- teacher Jack Ryan lent himself $1 million, raised another $154,316 and spent $123,911.

Lawyer and accountant John Cox lent his campaign $25,000 and spent $7,946.

Physician-turned-businessman Chirinjeev Kathuria has declared he is running and pledged to put as much as $15 million of his own in the race. He has said he will file a report in the next 10 days.

Dairy and investment magnate James Oberweis plans to launch his campaign Thursday.