Former East St. Louis mayor Carl Officer says he has formed a SuperPAC to support Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, signaling a possible shift in Democratic support.
"I am sure we will hear the moans and groans from our Democrat friends regarding our decision in this endorsement and support of a Republican," Officer said. "However, we ask them to consider whether we do not need a totally different approach for all Illinoisans to have a chance to carve out their share of that American dream."
Officer, a former Democrat who now considers himself as an independent, said the Political Action Committee is called Democrats and Independents For Rauner.
A SuperPAC is a new type of PAC that was created in 2010. They can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, groups and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to campaign for or against a candidate. There are no limits on contributions to SuperPACs.
David Melton, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which seeks to inform voters about the role of money in Illinois politics, said there could be a couple of reasons behind the formation of Officer's PAC.
"One benefit of going as a SuperPAC is that you can spend an unlimited amount of money -- you're not subject to campaign limits," he said. "As a SuperPAC, as long as you don't coordinate with the candidate or his campaign, you can raise money that's not subject to limits, and spend unlimited amounts of money."
Another possibility, Melton said, is that it's an attempt to win votes for Rauner from beyond the traditional Republican voters.
"My gut instinct would be that this is part of Rauner's effort to try to convince independents to go his way," Melton said. "Given voter registrations in Illinois, he knows he's going to have to get some cross-over votes."
Rauner's new campaign commercial features his wife, who says she's a Democrat. Rauner also has worked recently to gain support among black church leaders in the Chicago area.
Rauner, a Winnetka businessman, has his own campaign fund, Citizens For Rauner. His campaign spent $14 million in winning the primary, including $6 million of his own money.
Steve Denari, a political consultant in the Chicago area who went to high school with Officer, is serving on the board of directors of Democrats and Independents For Rauner.
Denari said the PAC is "expecting to receive a lot of donations," but declined to offer specifics.
"There's a lot of folks out there who ... maybe feel better about donating to a group called Democrats and Independents For Rauner. You might feel better about it than it being Citizens For Rauner," Denari said.
Officer's PAC has not yet filed any registration or contribution paperwork with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Melton said, "Usually, when people announce these things, they've already got donors lined up, in my experience."
Officer is a one-time Democrat who has feuded with party leaders. He served four terms as mayor of East St. Louis and tried to run as an independent for U.S. Senate in 2010. He also has served on the District 189 school board in East St. Louis.
Rauner is attempting to unseat Gov. Pat Quinn, whose spokeswoman was not available for comment.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2511.