Screen shot of Raja Krishnamoorthi's campaign video, "Renewing Prosperity" YouTube
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Raja Krishnamoorthi and Barack Obama in Raja’s childhood home in Peoria, Ill. in July 2002. Krishnamoorthi was previously a campaign advisor for Obama. Wikimedia Commons/Sahil Mehta

Democratic U.S. House candidate Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois has said he “detest[s]” super PACs, but his friends and family don’t appear to share that opinion. They have provided all of the money to a super PAC called “Suburban Voters for Choice,” which has spent $17,600 on a TV ad trying to give his campaign a last-minute boost.

Kalikathan Krishnamoorthi, the candidate’s father, a professor at Bradley University, donated $9,000 to Suburban Voters for Choice earlier this month, according to an iWatch News review of paperwork filed voluntarily by the group to the Federal Election Commission this week.

The candidate’s brother, Venkatesan “Ram” Krishnamoorthi, a doctor, donated an additional $2,400, and Glen Tullman, who is identified as both a “friend of Raja” and the president of healthcare information technology Allscripts, donated $10,000.

The three men are the only donors to the nascent super PAC, which was formed just three weeks ago by Michael Vainisi, who served as the finance director of Krishnamoorthi’s 2010 campaign for state comptroller. The group’s assistant treasurer, J.B. Mantz, also previously served as a senior advisor to Krishnamoorthi during that unsuccessful race.

The group expressed a desire to disclose the names of its donors before Tuesday’s primary election in the spirit of “transparency,” according to its filing with the FEC. Because of the group’s late formation, it was not legally required to disclose any of its donors prior to the election.

“We are going beyond what election law requires to disclose our donors now ahead of time, instead of waiting until after the election,” Mantz told iWatch News. “We think that that’s the more honest and ethical approach.”

Mantz continued to say that the group believes that super PACs “shouldn’t exist,” but, like many other Democrats, they have decided that they will not unilaterally disarm. Last month, President Barack Obama became the highest profile Democrat to change his tune on super PACs and endorse their fundraising efforts.

As long as super PACs exist, Mantz said, “it’s not a bad idea to use them in order to advocate for a real progressive candidate in an election.”

Krishnamoorthi and his opponent Tammy Duckworth, both rising stars in the Democratic Party, are facing off in a primary in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. The winner will take on Tea Party-backed freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

Krishnamoorthi spokesman Mike Murray told iWatch News that the campaign did not “condone” super PACs but said he could understand the sentiment of his boss’ family and friends who donated to Suburban Voters for Choice.

“We’re not going to tell our allies to unilaterally disarm when the other side is taking special interest money hand over fist,” he said.

A spokesman for Duckworth could not immediately be reached for comment, although both candidates have decried the influence of special interests in politics on the campaign trail. In fact, each tried unsuccessfully to get the other to sign a pledge to limit the role of outside groups in the primary election.

Duckworth’s pledge was limited to rejecting support from outside spending groups like super PACs, while Krishnamoorthi’s extended to also rejecting campaign contributions from unions, lobbyists and all political action committees.

Duckworth countered that there are “many political action committees” that rely on small-dollar donors and advocate for worthy interests such as “people with disabilities, firefighters [and] letter carriers.”

So far, Suburban Voters for Choice has been the only independent group to report spending money expressly advocating for or against either candidate during this primary race, according to an iWatch News analysis of FEC data.

In the wake of federal court rulings in 2010, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, super PACs are allowed to collect unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions to fund political advertisements that are not coordinated with the campaigns of the candidates they are supporting.

Help support this work

Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising so that our investigative reporting can have the widest possible impact on addressing inequality in the U.S. Our work is possible thanks to support from people like you. 

Michael Beckel reported for the Center for Public Integrity from 2012 to 2017.