With his political future and Congress’ political direction hanging in the balance, Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove significantly outraised Republican challenger Keith Pekau in the weeks before and after their showdown last fall, federal records show.
Casten spent more than triple what Orland Park’s Pekau did on advertising and other campaign tools during those key weeks, too.
While the Democrats lost control of the U.S. House on Nov. 8, Casten retained his 6th District seat with more than 54% of the vote – the largest percentage of his three congressional wins.
“Casten was able to dominate the last phase of the campaign with his spending and his campaign organization and win comfortably,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Congressional campaigns must submit financial reports to the Federal Election Commission once they collect or spend at least $5,000. The latest documents, covering Oct. 20 through Nov. 28, are viewable at fec.gov.
The Casten for Congress committee started the period with about $536,567 saved and collected nearly $497,309 over the next 5½ weeks.
Of that rake, nearly $390,502 came from individual donors, including $800 from state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville and $100 from former Buffalo Grove Village President Elliott Hartstein.
Casten’s campaign also got $105,097 from political action committees representing special interests, including:
• $5,000 from Planned Parenthood
• $2,500 from J Street, a group supporting peace in Israel
• $2,500 from General Motors
On the other side of the ledger, the Casten campaign spent more than $925,893 during the period on ads, payroll, consultants and other operating expenses. That included $528,262 for media buys and $266,811 for digital ads for the final week of the campaign, records show.
Casten and Pekau were on opposite sides of virtually every hot-button issue during the campaign, including abortion, LGBTQ+ rights and gun control. The TV and digital ads were critical to sharing Casten’s political message across the newly redrawn district in the west and southwest suburbs, campaign spokesman Jacob Vurpillat said.
“We knew that if we shared those values and that message with as many people as possible, we’d win,” Vurpillat said. “Being able to outspend your opponent can make a difference if you have a message that connects with voters.”
Pekau couldn’t be reached for this story.
Casten finished the period with more than $102,332 saved and about $75,694 in debts to the candidate.
The Pekau for Congress committee started the period with about $47,448 banked – less than 9% of what Casten’s campaign had at the same time. It collected about $235,075 over the next 5½ weeks, less than half what Casten’s committee took in during the period.
About $183,756 of Pekau’s receipts came from individuals, including $1,100 from former 6th District congressman Peter Roskam and $2,900 from real estate developer and former Navy Pier Vice Chairman Patrick Daly.
The Pekau campaign also got $32,600 from political action committees including:
• $5,000 from the National Pro-Life Alliance
• $500 from U.S. Israel PAC, a group that backs candidates who support the U.S.’s relationship with Israel
• $5,000 from SEAL PAC, a group dedicated to helping conservatives who are military veterans, such as Pekau, get elected to Congress
Additionally, Pekau received $17,426 in financial transfers from various sources, including about $12,113 from a joint fundraising committee called the Pekau Victory Fund and $2,471 from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s 25 for 22 Victory Fund.
The Pekau campaign spent about $258,068 during the period on consultants, polling, direct mail and other operating expenses. Pekau’s ad buys during the period totaled $73,032, documents show.
Challenging a well-funded incumbent with name recognition, Pekau needed financial help from national Republican and pro-business groups to finish strong, Redfield said. But in the final months of the campaign, the GOP and its backers instead focused on flipping Illinois’ open 17th District seat – and they failed.
When the dust settled after Election Day, Democrats had won 14 of Illinois’ 17 congressional posts, including every seat serving the north, west and northwest suburbs.
As for Pekau, his campaign finished the period with about $16,792 saved and roughly $69,802 in debts to consultants, vendors and the candidate.