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Outside influence stirs up election

RobKelly announced Mr. Benny's Steak   Lobster House MattesIllinois thshe is running for Jesse JacksJr.'s 2nd Congressional District sefrom

Robin Kelly announced at Mr. Benny's Steak & Lobster House in Matteson, Illinois, that she is running for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s 2nd Congressional District seat from which he resigned. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 19, 2013 6:22AM

Once again, the 2nd Congressional District is embroiled in a scandal.

This time, it’s not about sexual harassment, sexual abuse or political corruption. This scandal is unlikely to land on the desk of a federal prosecutor. It’s totally legal, but still insidious. It’s the scourge of the SuperPAC.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC plans to plow at least $2 million into TV and print ads supporting former U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and attacking her competitors for their advocacy of gun rights.

For weeks, the ads have been pummeling Kelly’s competitors, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson. Hutchinson is crying uncle. On Sunday, she dropped out of the race and threw her support to Kelly.

Bloomberg, a wealthy and determined gun control advocate, has dispatched his SuperPAC to influence the gun debate in congressional races around the nation.

That’s 2 million reasons to worry that an outsider will have an outsized influence in this contest to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned in November.

The campaign for the Feb. 26 Democratic nomination is a mob scene. With 15 candidates competing, the expensive commercials are having a powerful impact. The Bloomberg ads bite especially hard on Halvorson’s record. One TV commercial that seems omnipresent on Chicago’s broadcast and cable channels, the narrator warns: “Gun violence — it’s out of control. Debbie Halvorson will make it worse. Halvorson opposed a ban on deadly assault weapons. She co-sponsored legislation to allow some criminals to carry loaded hidden guns across state lines.” Other ads single out Halvorson and Hutchinson for their ties to the National Rifle Association.

This is not the first time outsiders have held sway in the 2nd District. In 1992, Mel Reynolds knocked off U.S. Rep. Gus Savage, thanks to wealthy donors from around the nation. Jackson tapped his famous name and his father’s celebrity connections to collect big cash throughout his 17-year congressional career.

Savage, Reynolds and Jackson all fell to scandal and corruption.

Now, the race to replace Jackson is being bankrolled and big-footed by just one person. Bloomberg’s cause is indeed just, and the media mogul-turned-politician is no newbie in the gun control reform debate. Still, his SuperPAC’s expenditures reek of undue influence on the democratic process.

Halvorson is still standing, and she’s crying foul. The commercials are “very deceiving” and distort her record, Halvorson told me last week. She acknowledges that it is Bloomberg’s “prerogative” to plow his riches into the contest, but adds: “A lot more people see this as one man coming into Illinois to try and buy a House seat.”

The beneficiary of Bloomberg’s largess: former state Rep. Robin Kelly. As the establishment candidate, Kelly has raised more than $417,000, and captured most of the heavyweight political endorsements.

Kelly was way out front on the gun
control issue. So late last week,
Bloomberg’s PAC rewarded her by
running pro-Kelly ads.

The Bloomberg ad buys are a powerful lure for inattentive voters in this low-energy, off-cycle special primary election.

Kelly is well-positioned to win this race. If she does, she will owe heavy allegiance to a New York billionaire. To the voters? Maybe not so much.

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