A new campaign finance analysis of the 2015 Chicago mayoral election shows incumbent Rahm Emanuel and top challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia received much of their financial support from large donors and those living outside the city.
Ninety-two percent of all the money contributed to the mayoral candidates came from donors giving more than $1,000, the analysis by the Illinois PIRG Education Fund showed. On the flip side, contributions of less than $150 represented only 2 percent of the money donated to Emanuel and Garcia combined. Overall, Emanuel had a massive fundraising edge over his opponents in both the February 24 election and the April 7 runoff.
"Our democracy is built on the principle of one person, one vote," Illinois PIRG Education Fund Director Abe Scarr said in a statement. "But the race for big money gives big donors an outsized voice in our elections."
Fifty-eight percent of the combined money contributed to Emanuel and Garcia came from donors living outside Chicago, according to the report, based on campaign finance data dating back to 2011 through March 31, 2015.
Only 0.2 percent of Emanuel's campaign contributions were raised from small donors. Donations of more than $1,000 represented 95 percent of Emanuel's contributions, and 60 percent of the mayor's campaign funds came from donors living outside Chicago.
For Garcia, 77 percent of his campaign funds came from donors giving over $1,000. Donations of less than $150 represented 8 percent of Garcia's total campaign funds, 53 percent of which was raised from donors living outside Chicago.
The findings highlight the need for small donor campaign finance reform, Illinois PIRG Education Fund leaders say.
In the February 24 election, Chicago voters overwhelmingly backed a referendum question asking their opinion on the idea of implementing a small donor campaign finance matching program.
Similar small donor financing programs, which seek to even the playing field when it comes to candidate campaign spending, have been adopted in New York, Los Angeles and Montgomery County, Maryland.
"Local, state, and federal elected officials should heed the call of Chicago voters by advancing reforms that diminish the dominance of big money in our elections and empower small donors to have a greater impact," Scarr said.