Candidates raising big dollars in Cook County Board race

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In the Democratic primary race for Cook County’s 1st District, challenger Brandon Johnson has been fundraising up a storm to take on first-term Commissioner Richard Boykin.

Johnson, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, has raised at least $317,000 for his political committee, Friends of Brandon Johnson, since entering the race late last year, according to the most recent data available from the Illinois State Board of Elections.

By the time Johnson filed his 2,100 petition signatures at the end of November to get on the March 20 ballot, Boykin, who was first elected in 2014, had already reported having more than $145,000 on-hand in his political committee, Friends of Richard Boykin.

Campaign committees are required to file quarterly reports that list who’s making contributions. The most recent data available covers Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017.

The next quarterly report isn’t due until April 15 – more than three weeks after the primary – but in the meantime, candidates must report contributions of $1,000 or more from a single source.

In reports filed by the campaigns in mid-January, the first quarter in which both campaigns were reporting, Johnson showed $53,827 in on-hand cash compared to Boykin’s $171,386.

Brandon Johnson

Since then, Johnson has worked to close the gap, raising more than $185,000 since the start of the year, mostly from labor unions, records show.

“The contributions reflect the urgency and the desire to have a true progressive voice on the county board,” Johnson said of his union backing.

The Chicago Teachers Union Political Action Committee has given $50,000 to Johnson’s campaign in two installments of $25,000 — the first on Dec. 15 and again on Jan. 11.

Other major contributions include:

  • $55,000 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers Committee on Political Education
  • a total of $55,000 from three separate Service Employees International Union Political Action Committees
  • $25,000 from the AFSCME Illinois Council No. 31 Political Action Committee
  • $22,760 from United Working Families
  • more than $18,000 from three International Union of Operating Engineers chapters.

Boykin said he doesn’t find his opponent’s union support surprising.

“He’s a member of the teachers union, and unions support unions,” he said. “I think it shows that he’ll do what they want him to do. If they want a new pop tax they’ll get it, because they supported it.”

In recent weeks, Johnson has also seen support from  — nearly $4,000 — and the Cook County College Teacher Committee on Political Education, which gave $5,000.

“As a worker, as a public school teacher, I’m glad I have the support of working-class people,” Johnson said. “These folks see my candidacy as an extension of their values.”

Contributions to Boykin’s political committee, Friends of Richard Boykin, have totaled more than $831,000 since donations first started coming in back in 2013. Boykin has reported raising at least $31,722 toward that total so far this year.

Boykin recent contributions show support for the incumbent from business organizations, as well as groups and individuals with ties to the food and beverage industry.

The most recent large contributions to Boykin’s campaign are $7,500 from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 7; $5,000 from the Illinois Restaurant Association on Feb. 16; and $3,000 from the Illinois Merchants Political Action Committee on Feb. 13.

Boykin has campaigned on his leading role in ending the penny-per-ounce “pop tax” on sweetened beverages that the Cook County Board approved then repealed late last year.

Richard Boykin

Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County, an industry-supported group that opposed the tax, has given Boykin more than $12,000, records show. The PAC also held a fundraiser for Boykin and other county commissioners last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The Illinois Food and Beverage Association PAC has contributed $2,000 to his campaign since last summer.

Paul Boykas, a vice president at PepsiCo who lives in Virginia, gave Boykin $1,000 last July and another $1,000 on Feb. 1. Employees who work for Dr. Pepper gave Boykin $3,000 last year and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Political Action Committee gave $750.

But support of Boykin from the beverage industry goes back years: Crown Imports LLC, a Chicago-based alcohol distributor, has given Boykin $21,500 since 2013. An Oak Park-based Coca Cola distributor gave the commissioner $1,500 in 2016.

Boykin has also received support from other large corporations over the years, including CSX Transportation, Comcast, ComEd, DMS Pharmaceutical, Pfizer and McDonalds.

“They haven’t given me nearly as much as the unions have given my opponent,” Boykin said of his contributions. “I have a boat load of contributions from ordinary citizens.

“I’m not bought, and I’m not bossed by anyone,” he added.

To catch up with what the unions are spending on behalf of his opponent, Boykin said he recently put more of his own money into the campaign. Boykin, an attorney, loaned his campaign $12,000 on Feb. 7, only months after loaning the campaign $15,000, according to records.

“It’s called skin in the game,” Boykin said. “I’ve never gotten money back. If I’m asking you to give, I should, too.”

Johnson said Boykin’s ability to loan his campaign money “speaks to his work as a corporate lobbyist.”

“I can’t loan myself that kind of money,” Johnson said. “I’m working class.”


In addition to raising money, both campaigns have been soliciting endorsements.

A list of endorsements on Boykin’s campaign website shows support from local politicians, including U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, for whom Boykin previously served as chief of staff.

Other politicians endorsing Boykin include west suburban mayors from Forest Park, Westchester, Bellwood, Maywood, North Riverside, Broadview and Oak Park — much of the 1st District’s suburbs.

Boykin said that support comes from having made sure the suburbs in his district are getting their fair share from the county.

Boykin has also gotten the nod from county officials — Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Sheriff Tom Dart and Treasurer Maria Pappas — and five members of the Chicago City Council, including Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th).

“I’m grateful to have these elected leaders supporting me, because they are leaders in their communities,” Boykin said. “The endorsement that matters most is the endorsement from the people.”

Organizations supporting Boykin are the Proviso Township Democratic Organization, the Italian American Political Coalition and Teamsters Local 727.

Like the financial contributions to his campaign, Johnson has relied on unions for the majority of his endorsements.

He has been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, the Chicago Federation of Labor, AFSCME Council 31 and Teamsters Local 700, among others.

From the political establishment, Johnson has received endorsements from Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who represent parts of Chicago’s West Side, as well as Secretary of State Jesse White and state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin (10th).

Johnson has also been endorsed a number of political organizations that support progressive candidates, including the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution,, Reclaim Chicago and Citizen Action.

“I’m truly humbled to be in a position where I can lift the voice of working-class and middle-class people,” Johnson said of his support from progressive organizations. “This is truly a coalition of the willing.”

Neither campaign had polling data they could release, but both said they were seeing a lot of support on the ground when they knocked on doors and attended events.

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