Fundraising off for now, McSweeney, in Ill.-8, says

Chicago investment banker-turned-congressional hopeful David McSweeney, vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), said yesterday that he would stop raising campaign money for the month so that supporters can donate to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Chicago investment banker-turned-congressional hopeful David McSweeney, vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), said yesterday that he would stop raising campaign money for the month so that supporters can donate to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

To compensate for lost contributions, McSweeney is giving his campaign $250,000 of his own money. The candidate earlier said he is willing to put in “seven figures” to beat Bean, one of a handful of freshmen who unseated an incumbent in 2004.

“We, as a community, need to focus our resources on assistance to our brothers and sisters in the Gulf region who have been devastated by this tragic storm,” McSweeney said in a statement.

Bean’s media consultant, Eric Adelstein, dismissed McSweeney’s move as a “gimmick,” saying that the congresswoman has no plans to stop fundraising.

“He’s a millionaire,” Adelstein said. “Maybe he can afford that luxury. The thing [Bean’s] trying to do is … get relief down there and make sure the federal government plays the appropriate role.”

Adelstein said the congresswoman plans to spend $4 million to $5 million on the race.

McSweeney said in a telephone interview that it simply felt “unseemly” to be asking for political cash when relief efforts were ongoing. He added that his political rivals are free to “call this whatever they want. I’m doing what I think is right.”

The Republican added that he had canceled several fundraisers scheduled for September, including one this week with former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.).

McSweeney’s campaign manager, Jim Thacker, said the candidate had raised $50,000 in the third quarter before the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast.

McSweeney is running in the Republican primary against businesswoman Teresa Bartels; Kathy Salvi, an attorney and the wife of former state Rep. Al Salvi; and Aaron Lincoln, a former attorney in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

A Republican consultant with extensive knowledge of Illinois politics said McSweeney’s move might help him win the GOP nomination but would do little to put him over the top in the general election.

The consultant, who is not working for anyone in the primary, said the three wealthy candidates — McSweeney, Bartels and Salvi — lacked the charisma or political insight to beat Bean. He praised Lincoln but questioned whether he would have the money to compete in the primary, adding that if Lincoln has less than $250,000 come the end of the third quarter, Sept. 30, he should drop out of the House race and run for the state Senate.

Lincoln said yesterday that he would probably end the quarter shy of his fundraising goal of $50,000 but pledged to press on.

He added that, given that his campaign is a few months old and he’s not independently wealthy, he would keep raising money. He also noted that he has offered his legal services pro bono to hurricane victims.

Mike Zolnierowicz, Bartels’s campaign manager, said the campaign has not stopped raising money but has added a link to the Red Cross on its website.

Both Lincoln and Zolnierowicz praised McSweeney for doing whatever possible to help hurricane survivors. Zolnierowicz said that his boss had donated to the Red Cross, Catholic Charities and her local church; McSweeney has also written checks to charities working on relief efforts.

A Salvi campaign aide was unavailable for comment. Salvi officially announced her campaign yesterday.

An Illinois Democratic source said Bean is well-positioned to win a second term.

“They didn’t get anyone from the first team to run, or the second team,” the Democrat said of Republicans in Washington who have pledged to target Bean. “It means they couldn’t come up with a poll that shows she’s vulnerable. … When people smell an opportunity, they go.”

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), who is backing McSweeney, disagreed, insisting that Republicans would have a viable candidate to take on Bean and win back a seat that Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) held for nearly two decades.

Calling McSweeney a friend, the congressman said he would be sending him a campaign donation.

He added that he doesn’t expect Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to weigh in on the primary. At the earliest, LaHood said, the Speaker might endorse one of the Republican candidates next year, after the race is more clearly defined.

McSweeney’s announcement, one day after former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) endorsed his candidacy, comes at the same time that Republicans and Democrats in Washington are accusing each other of trying to capitalize on the hurricane.

SEE EDITORIAL, PAGE 26