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Business donors not likely to rush to another mayoral candidate

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Chicago’s business titans suddenly find themselves without a horse running in the great mayoral derby of 2011 — at least for now.

Among the mayoral candidates, Rahm Emanuel had attracted the overwhelming proportion of donations from corporations and big-spending individuals. His five- and six-figure checks came heavily from Chicago traders, money managers and private equity investors.

Now that Emanuel has been ruled off the ballot by the Illinois Appellate Court, will business rally around another candidate in time to influence the Feb. 22 outcome?

Donors themselves and the people who advise them said Monday that’s not likely, at least until the Illinois Supreme Court reviews the ruling on Emanuel’s residency.

“The first thing these donors will do is grip the arms of their chairs real hard and hang on, because the next few days will be a wild ride,” said William Brandt Jr., a corporate turnaround specialist and an active political fund-raiser.

Jumping to another candidate won’t happen unless the appellate ruling stands, Brandt said. “It will be an expensive lesson for a lot of donors, and the last thing you want to do is double down when you don’t know what the outcome is,” he said.

Emanuel’s biggest donations came from the likes of CME Group Inc., owner of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which kicked in $200,000. Ken Griffin, chief executive of the hedge fund firm Citadel LLC, and his wife donated $100,000 each, and Matthew Hulsizer, chief executive of Peak6 Investments LP, provided $150,000, among others in that range.

Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of CME Group, said traders aren’t ready to hedge their bets on the candidates. “I personally believe the [appellate] decision is wrong and is going to be overturned,” he said.

“Rahm is somebody we see that can maintain the international showcase values that Chicago developed over the last 20 years under Mayor Daley,” Melamed said. Emanuel is a former board member of the Chicago Merc.

Emanuel has reported raising $11.7 million for the campaign. Among his opponents, his closest competition in fund-raising is Gery Chico, whose $2.5 million relies in large measure in real estate and construction interests.

One executive who advises deep-pocketed donors said Chico should not see a fast influx of money. “This is not over, so there’s no reason for the largest donors to jump ship,” the executive said.

Even if they do support Chico or another candidate, a new state law that limits contributions blunts the impact. Individuals now can give no more than $5,000 to a candidate and businesses and associations are limited to $10,000. Larger donations to the mayoral candidates were made last year, before the law took effect.

Will Emanuel be asked for refunds if he can’t run for mayor? Brandt, who described himself as close to Chico and candidate Miguel del Valle, said the law clearly lets Emanuel keep the money, or he could adopt a policy of pro-rated refunds.

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