April 23, 2024

Campaign Finance Played Role in Some, Not All Democratic Primaries

By Natalie McGuiggan

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis won his Democratic primary bid for a 15th term as 7th District US Congressman with an easy victory over Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyear-Ervin and lifelong activist Kina Collins

Davis won with 52.2 percent of the vote, with Conyears-Ervin trailing with 21.1 and Collins with 19.1 percent. 

Davis raised around $677,000 for his campaign, Conyears-Ervin ended with around $704,500, and Collins raised the most with $806,500

Retired 44th Ward Alderman and UIC professor Dick Simpson said Davis won because he “is an established incumbent, voters know what they are going to get by voting for Davis,” despite his lower campaign funding.

“The problem for Collins was that the money came in the last week of the campaign. She could not use it effectively,” he said.

“You had two contenders [Conyears-Ervin and Collins] that tended to work against each other. Collins had done very well the previous election, because there was no one else in the race. So if she would have been running alone against Davis, her chances, assuming she would have had the money earlier, would have been better.To some extent the two opponents canceled each other out.” 


Retired appellate court judge Elieen O’Neill Burke defeated progressive candidate Clayton Harris III in the Democratic primary race for the Cook County State’s Attorney. After a close race that took two weeks to finalize the vote, O’Neill Burke won the primary by 1,556 votes.  

Donors gave nearly $4.4 million to the Democratic primary race between the two candidates, with just over $3 million going to O’Neill Burke’s campaign, nearly tripling Harris’s total. The race was the least-expensive Democratic primary race for State’s Attorney since 2008, according to the Center for Illinois Politics. 

Despite the major disparity in campaign funding, the close race extended two weeks so the Board of Elections could count the mail-in-ballots.

The caps of the contributions limits were opened late February after O’Neill Burke contributed over $100,000 to her own campaign. She continued to receive additional high-dollar donations, most notably from her top contributor Daniel O’Keefe, who along with his wife contributed over $350,000 to O’Neill Burke’s campaign.

After the limits were taken off for the contributions, O’Neill Burke raised over $800,000 in one day from only 13 donors, all of whom are leaders in the business world. 

When asked about the campaign finance of this year’s primary and the elections as a whole, Simpson said, “The cost of running an election has gotten completely out of hand. Small donors can’t provide the money necessary for a candidate for major office. That undermines the system.”

Harris criticized O’Neill Burke and her campaign funding because all her highest donors were white men, and continued to question her political stance as a Democrat after being backed by mainly conservative/Republican donors. Although Harris also received big-dollar donations – mainly from organizations, unions, as well as individual Democratic funders – his funding could not compete with O’Neill Burke, who had the means to self-fund as well as having an extensive amount of big-money connections. 

Having the upper hand in funding, O’Neill Burke was able to spend more money on her campaigning through advertisements, interviews, mailers, and other media outlets.

“The difference in campaign funding is undermining democracy” Simpson said. “There are other problems with the republic; income and racial inequalities, non-participation, like in this last election,the polarization in politics, gerrymandering, corruption, just to name a few.

“So campaign finance, if it isn’t reformed, will probably undermine democracy in combination with the underlying income and racial inequalities in the country, and the paralysis of Congress, and so forth.” 


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