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Local 150 spending “six figures” on Libertarian candidate

Monday, Oct 20, 2014 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

I wasn’t hugely surprised when Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers contributed $30,000 to the Illinois Libertarian Party’s candidate for governor Chad Grimm earlier this month.

After all, the union’s president, Jim Sweeney, was out in front of the push to beat Bruce Rauner during the Republican primary. After a stormy meeting with Rauner, who is running on a pledge to allow local areas to opt-in to “right to work” laws, Sweeney demanded that organized labor stop the candidate in his tracks. The law would give workers the right to not join the very unions which negotiated their pay, benefits and working conditions.

Sweeney’s union contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to state Sen. Kirk Dillard’s primary campaign, and kicked in even more to the Fund for Progress and Jobs PAC, which was the vehicle some unions used to inform Republicans that Rauner was a “closet Democrat.”

Dillard just barely lost to Rauner in the primary, but Sweeney didn’t let up. When the Illinois Republican Party committed resources this summer to knocking the Libertarians off the November ballot, Sweeney bankrolled a crew that pushed back hard and kept the Libertarians in place.

But as it turns out, that $30,000 was just a down payment. A whole lot more help from the union is apparently on the way. Sweeney told me last week that his local is also planning a full direct mail and robocall program for the Libertarian Party candidate.

Asked about rumors that his union would spend between $200,000 and $250,000 to push the pro-gun, pro-life Grimm with traditional Republican voters against the much more liberal Rauner, Sweeney replied “More.” Asked if the budget was six figures or seven, Sweeney said “Six.”

The Libertarian’s Grimm is getting around 5-8 percent of the vote so far, depending on the poll. He appears to be taking away slightly more votes from Rauner than he is from Gov. Pat Quinn. The object is to push Grimm’s numbers up by informing conservative Republican voters that he’s the only pro-gun, pro-life candidate in the contest.

Sweeney explained last week that 42 percent of his members pull Republican ballots during primaries, and that many of those members are pro-gun, pro-life conservatives who want another option. But, obviously, the real object here is to defeat Rauner.

Rauner says he is pro-choice, and has run TV and newspaper ads in Chicago featuring women attesting to his pro-choice convictions. The National Rifle Association has refused to rate Rauner, claiming he won’t answer their questions. Rauner’s positions can’t be used by Gov. Quinn, who is solidly pro-choice and not exactly a gun lover, but Sweeney can sure use them.

According to Sweeney, his union local had a 50 percent unemployment rate during the depths of the Great Recession. Once proud, solidly middle class union members were relying on union-sponsored food banks. Several lost their homes, their cars, their families.

The unemployment rate for Sweeney’s members is now the second lowest in the country in that sector, thanks in no small part to a big public works program pushed by Gov. Quinn. Sweeney’s local endorsed Quinn four years ago over Bill Brady because Brady, like Rauner, favored “right to work” legislation.

Sweeney said he met with Rauner twice since the primary in an attempt to find common ground, but Rauner refused both times to come off his “right to work” stance and wouldn’t commit to a funding source for a new public infrastructure program.

And Sweeney doesn’t appear to be in the mood for any further discussions, telling me that even if Rauner publicly changed his position on “right to work,” as he has with the minimum wage increase issue and taxes, the union leader wouldn’t believe him.

A huge factor in Gov. Quinn’s win four years ago was independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen’s millions of dollars worth of TV ads. He ended up splitting the anti-Quinn vote with Bill Brady, The hope here is that Grimm can manage a repeat performance.

The universe Sweeney’s aiming at is probably pretty small. Partisanship is strong on both ends of the spectrum, and convincing people to “throw away” their vote on a third party candidate won’t be easy, to say the least.

But for those who sincerely believe that abortion is murder and who refuse to support any candidate who disagrees with them, it could be a powerful message. The same goes for the “true believers” who own guns.

And in a close race – and this race is close – every vote will count.


  1. - Downstate GOP Faithless - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:23 am:

    You don’t need to turn many votes…

  2. - walker - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:29 am:

    Big infrastructure projects might depend on the outcome. This is for his members’ continued employment.

  3. - VanillaMan - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:31 am:

    What we have here is a guy who is turning the election into a cynical ploy which disrespects conservative voters so thoroughly, he believes they can be fooled to throw away their votes.

    i hope he spends every dime he can borrow on this sick stunt.

  4. - Louis G Atsaves - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:34 am:

    The Libertarians never fessed up as to who paid for their legal expenses, telling their followers simply that their treasury was depleted as a result of the petition challenges. Now they are not telling their followers of receiving additional union help.


  5. - John A Logan - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:35 am:

    Looks like Rauner has a visit coming from the “Grimm” Reaper just in time for Halloween. Spooktacular!

  6. - Jaded - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:41 am:

    So a group wanting more government spending on infrastructure is supporting the Libertarian party candidate for Governor. The Libertarian candidate whose first two positions are as follows:

    “First off, a common sense plan to phase out government employee pensions that will actually put more money in their pockets.
    Second, not only allowing the income tax increases to expire in 2015, but working to eliminate state income tax altogether.”

    Now that is Illinois politics at its finest (or worst depending on your viewpoint).

    I wonder if Mr. Sweeney is also going to tell conservatives that Mr. Grimm would also like to legalize cannabis. Nah, probably not.

  7. - MrJM - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:42 am:

    “What we have here is a guy who is turning the election into a cynical ploy which disrespects conservative voters so thoroughly, he believes they can be fooled to throw away their votes.”

    With Rauner as the GOP nominee, I’m afraid you’ll need to be more specific.

    – MrJM

  8. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:45 am:


    Spoken like a true political insider.

    I am still glad I voted against Rod Blagojevich in 2006. Twice.

    You can’t blame Conservatives for voting against Rauner any more than you can blame progressives for voting against Rod.

    It’s America.

  9. - 47th Ward - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:47 am:

    ===What we have here is a guy who is turning the election into a cynical ploy which disrespects conservative voters so thoroughly, he believes they can be fooled to throw away their votes.===

    Are you talking about Rauner? Grimm may not be a Republican, but he is pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment, which used to be important issues for conservative voters.

    Rauner might be running as a Republican, but he’s pro-choice and won’t tell anyone how he feels about the 2nd Amendment. He’s also proposing new taxes and new spending, hardly conservative policies.

    So tell me again, which cynical candidate is disrespecting conservatives?

  10. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:49 am:

    I love the strategy in principle–opening up a second front–and wish it success.

    “The unemployment rate for Sweeney’s members is now the second lowest in the country in that sector, thanks in no small part to a big public works program pushed by Gov. Quinn.”

    Guv’mint created jobs and not union-stripping trickle down snake oil of the Rauner variety?

  11. - Cassiopeia - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:49 am:

    So according to Mr Sweeny a “true” conservative should vote for the Libertarian candidate in order to elect the liberal Democrat.

    I don’t think conservatives are that dumb.

  12. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:50 am:

    Any Union…


    That refuses to help defeat Rauner, deserves what may happen, which is attempting to diminish collective bargaining.

    Rauner will try. “Why take a chance?”

    I wouldn’t if I were them.

    Love me some 150, period. Reason? Going about their business by being straight-forward, and unapologetically.

  13. - The Historian - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:55 am:

    Am I the only person here who’s more than a little bit amazed that one union *local* has *hundreds of thousands* of dollars available to spend in a statewide election, and in a purely ‘tactical’ manner at that? What are members paying in annual dues?

  14. - Wordslinger - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:56 am:

    Louis, I find what you’ve been doing to knock the Libs off the ballot far more “interesting” than what they did to stay on.

    For example, whose idea was it to hire gunmen to knock on their doors?

    I’d ask who paid for it, but we all know Rauner bought the state GOP for $5 million.

  15. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:02 pm:

    BAM! Wordslinger.

    It is pretty funny for Rauner to complain that Sweeney is basically promising to spend a few hundred thousand telling downstate voters what Bruce Rauner has spent millions telling voters in Chicago.

    For Rauner, I suppose the truth is somehow linked to GPS coordinates.

  16. - Walter Mitty - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:04 pm:

    This can help Rauner as much… In a close race where turnout is the difference… The motivation this term is clearly on change nationwide. I said months ago, the best thing public sector unions can do is lay low and GOTV for Quinn without alot of mailers and noise. Unlike the commentators here as of late, our state is not in the mood for more spending we don’t have.. So OW, the R’s, your party, may love them some 150’s as well… Just a thought.

  17. - Robert the Bruce - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:08 pm:

    ==Love me some 150, period. Reason? Going about their business by being straight-forward, and unapologetically.==
    I appreciate that too. They aren’t donating to another group, that then donates to a third group, that finally donates to the Libertarians. And they admit the strategy publicly.

  18. - Walter Mitty - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:11 pm:

    It does show they clearly are aware Quinn is in deep trouble… If not, why not donate to Quinn instead of trying to split the vote? They are publicly are simplifying this for undecideds. A vote for Grimm or Quinn is a vote for the same… I think the fact folks think there country and state may be headed in the wrong direction, frames that concept nicely with this “stunt”…

  19. - Louis G Atsaves - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:21 pm:

    ===For example, whose idea was it to hire gunmen to knock on their doors?===

    OK Word: Gunmen. Thugs. Intimidators. Luca Brachi pointing a gun at the heads of Libertarians and telling them their signature or their brains will appear on that piece of paper. Lot’s of fun at our expense. That’s politics.

    Now strip your question of the High School Drama Queens stuff and consider that (1) the State Board of Elections failed to even mention that nonsense in their decision and (2) the Circuit Court of Sangamon County also failed to mention it, and then ask yourself how hard you fell for all that staged “drama.”

    Other than a whole lot of dishonest shrieking from Libertarians who barely qualified for the ballot using a few mysterious petition circulators, shrieking about (licensed investigator) “gunmen” and filing fake civil rights and criminal complaints that went nowhere, AND their dishonest failure to disclose where they got their legal money from and now their current campaign money, just how do you want me to answer your question?

    You may not my stances and opinions on topics, but I’ll never mince my words.

  20. - Loop Lady - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:24 pm:

    theres a lot of discontent in the union ranks-

    roiling up the troops to vote for Grimm is an excellent strategy-

    there’s a reason the Dems wanted the Lib on the ballot…

  21. - Ghost - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:25 pm:

    Walter your strategy is to lay low? Why? This is Illinois. Those unions are in almost every district with friends and family. This isn’t kansas.

  22. - Cassandra - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:26 pm:

    I’m astonished that the Rauner campaign got into this spat with Sweeney at all. This is Illinois, with a long tradition of union membership and union political power. Did the Rauner crew think that if they championed right-to-work, they would attract enough votes to overcome the effect on the union vote. A huge anti-union vote out here?
    C’mon. Indifference, more likely. They could’ve just kept quiet. Union membership is at historic lows nationally, especially in the private sector.

    Sometimes a good campaign has a lot to do with the fights you stay out of. Minimum wage. Right-to-work.

  23. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:27 pm:

    - Walter Mitty -,

    With respect,

    If Rauner wasn’t close enough to blowing this, the 150 move would be seen more as Folly than Damaging.

    Call it Folly at your own peril.

    Rauner dropping is the only thing making this relevant.

  24. - Ghost - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:33 pm:

    Remember old days when we had a Green Party in Ill…..

  25. - liandro - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:51 pm:

    - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 11:45 am:

    “I am still glad I voted against Rod Blagojevich in 2006.”

    I can’t help but respect your position when it is backed up by that action.

  26. - Anyone Remember - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:51 pm:

    Once heard a police labor guy say “We’re Republicans with needs like Democrats.” That also describes Operating Engineers. They may be conservative, they may love their guns, but their jobs are highly dependent upon government infrastructure projects. Privatized government infrastucture built with nonunion labor hurts them tremendously.

  27. - PublicServant - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 12:57 pm:

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That’s what Sweeney’s game is here, and it’s a good idea. I may not like much about conservative fiscal ideology, but conservatives are nothing, if not ideology-driven, and to the libertarians, ideology is everything, regardless of reality. I could see pointing out to conservatives how Rauner is not “Pure” in his stances during this election cycle might provide better bang for the buck than GOTV, since so many others are active on that stage anyway.

  28. - Coffee Cup - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 1:04 pm:

    The fact is that Sweeney finds it very easy to freely spend somebody (union rank & file) else’s money. If I was a local 150 member who has a hard enough time finding money to pay for my union dues (and Sweeney’s huge salary), I would vote for Rauner this election just to spite Mr. Sweeney.

  29. - phocion - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 1:12 pm:

    Will the 150 $ have some unintended consequences? It could be that some hard right voters were going to sit this one out anyway. Those were never Rauner votes, but now they could help elected Republicans elsewhere on the ballot. Say, in hotly contested legislative races. Will this Libertarian play hurt Rauner more than Quinn? Yes, but not sure how much. Will it hurt any of Madigan’s or Cullerton’s ducklings? Probably.

  30. - Western Ave. Doug - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 1:22 pm:

    Hope the Rauner crew tells college kids and younger voters that Grimm wants to legalize pot and is pro marriage equality. That could hurt Quinn.

  31. - Sun - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 2:37 pm:

    Coffee - what is Sweeney’s huge salary?

  32. - Gabe - Monday, Oct 20, 14 @ 3:11 pm:

    Coffee Cup - I would imagine that most union members consider fighting back against a “right to work” champion a good investment in their ability to earn a decent living.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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