Carol Felsenthal
On politics

There’s a Big Congressional Race Heating up in Illinois

Republican Bob Dold’s challenge to incumbent Democrat Brad Schneider will be watched far beyond the 10th District. Here’s why.

Bob Dold Photo: Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune

In 2012, Deerfield Democrat Brad Schneider, 52, a newbie to public office, took the 10th District seat from Kenilworth’s one-term Republican, Bob Dold, by just 3,326 votes out of 264,454 cast. Schneider became the first Democrat to hold the seat since Abner Mikva in the late ‘70s. It was a humiliating loss for Dold, a self-described social “moderate” and fiscal conservative who modeled himself on his predecessor, now-republican Sen. Mark Kirk. 

What has Dold been up to since losing his seat? First off, he’s been trying to reclaim it, deciding, within months of losing, to take on Schneider again in 2014: a race that will be highly scrutinized come election time, as it presents a prime pickup opportunity for the GOP. (He’s also COO of his family’s exterminating business, Northfield’s Rose Pest Solutions, founded in 1860 and the country’s oldest exterminating company.)

And he signed on, in 2013, as secretary of the board of directors of an organization called America’s Infrastructure Alliance (AIA) that has as its CEO and chairman Jeff Loveng, a registered lobbyist and former chief of staff to Bill Shuster, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee. 

What is AIA? It’s a not-for-profit 501(c) (4), and, according to its website, a “coalition of leading transportation organizations, including all of the major airlines, seaports and inland waterways, road builders, trucking firms and railroads” that is “commit[ed] to rebuilding American infrastructure so that this Nation’s economy is strong and globally competitive.”  It does so by “educating the American public, lawmakers and decision makers about the need for and obligation of the federal government to provide and support investment in our national transportation infrastructure.”

I checked Dold’s congressional candidate disclosure form, filed on June 21, 2013, to see if he collects a salary from AIA—which is loaded with Republicans with close ties to Congress and/or the Department of Transportation in Republican administrations. AIA shares an address and telephone number with SBL Strategies, for which AIA’s Jeff Loveng is Principal and CEO—and which engages, according to SBL’s website, in “direct lobbying” and “represent[ing] clients before the federal government.”

No mention of AIA on Dold’s disclosure form and when I searched for AIA’s 990, which nonprofits are required to file and which would show salaries, I couldn’t find it.

So I called Loveng, who told me that no one on AIA’s board, including Loveng as well as members of AIA’s “advisory board,” gets a salary because they all serve as “volunteers.”   AIA was launched in March 2013, he told me, adding that the IRS 1096/990 hasn’t been filed yet but will be by May.

He explained that AIA and SBL share an office address because “it’s convenient” and economical. While he is a registered lobbyist, he added, his firm does not lobby on behalf of AIA, which, he emphasized, is a “social welfare” organization which is “dedicated to educating the public on the importance of growing and improving our nation’s transportation system.” 

The not-for-profit 501(c) (4) designation allows groups, according to Open Secrets, “to participate in some political activity as long as politics isn’t their primary purpose. Many of the most prominent issue groups have long existed as 501(c)(4)s—groups like the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club.”  

Also on AIA’s board of directors is Mary Peters, secretary of transportation in the last two years of the George W. Bush administration; John Sullivan, a partner at SBL and a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma who served on the “leadership team” of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Peter Louglin, a former counsel to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the House, who later worked for a Koch company called Koch Performance Roads.

AIA’s advisory board includes Nicholas Calio,  an assistant to the President for legislative affairs in both the H.W. Bush and W. Bush administrations. Its other members are heads of transportation-related associations—Calio CEO of Airlines for America; Bill Graves, former Republican governor of Kansas, head of a trucking association. Three other advisory board members head transportation/infrastructure-related associations and have ties to the transportation department and/or republican members or Republican committees on Capitol Hill.

Dold wrote an op-ed last September in the Daily Herald in which he argued for increasing spending on infrastructure: “An investment in our transportation systems is an investment in our economy and quality of life. The ability to move goods on our roads, rails, pipelines, power lines and waterways ensures that we can meet the necessities of our families and businesses. An unexpected disruption caused by poor infrastructure can turn our lives upside down and cascade through our local economy.”  He wrote that “transportation and infrastructure funding” was particularly important to “crowded metropolitan areas like Chicago,” mentioning laws “to protect this critical funding stream,” to help transit riders, “rail projects… aging bridges.”

Neither that editorial nor any mention of AIA shows up on Dold’s campaign website. On a page on that website titled,  “Creating Jobs Now,”   Dold addresses infrasctructure: I believe that investing in infrastructure is a core responsibility of the federal government, and we must work to address our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure. In the Chicago area, we know firsthand the importance of quality infrastructure and the role it can play in transporting goods and services efficiently and increasing commercial opportunities that grow the economy. This is why I am committed to establishing a long-term infrastructure plan that is critical to providing certainty in construction and other industries. I also understand that for our district, this means not just roads and bridges, but also enhancing ports like Waukegan Harbor.”

When I asked Jeff Loveng why Dold, who holds both a law degree and an MBA, was brought on to the AIA board—his congressional committee assignments were in the financial services area—Loveng replied that “Chicago and Northern Illinois are at the center of the discussion over investment in infrastructure and at the epicenter of rail…. Bob Dold knows a lot of people in these industries and can talk to folks about the importance of infrastructure.”

Brad Schneider’s campaign manager, Jamie Patton, emailed me the following statement: “After losing his congressional seat two years ago, it seems Mr. Dold went right through the DC revolving door. Voters deserve to know how Mr. Dold is using his DC connections.”

As noted above, there’s no evidence that Dold is being paid or lobbying, which is what going through “the DC revolving door” typically means. Still, expect the AIA/SBL connection to turn up in campaign ads before the November election.

A call to Bob Dold’s campaign press people on Monday—I left a detailed message with the young man who answered the phone at Dold’s Libertyville campaign office—was not returned by post time. I’ll add to this post if I receive a response from the former congressman or his spokesperson.

The 10th District race will be one of the nation’s most closely watched and expensive. The Washington Post rated it earlier this year as number four of the 10 rematches likeliest to flip to the other party. The Post reporters gave Dold “a very competitive chance of victory here….”

Still, the North Shore district  been redrawn after the 2010 census to make it lean more to the left. In 2012, Dold’s home suburb of Kenilworth was no longer in the 10th.

Dold sells himself as pro choice, stem cell research, gun control and environment. The Sun-Times Lynn Sweet, in noting that both Dold and Schneider favor a House “yes” vote on extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, described them as in “violent agreement.”

Yet as moderate as Dold can be on social issues there’s nothing about Dold—Eagle Scout who grew up to be a Scout leader, quarterback on New Trier’s football team, a just-out-of-college advance staffer for Vice President Dan Quayle, a staffer on the House Government Reform Committee investigating Clinton’s and Gore’s fundraising practices during the ’96 campaign—that resembles a Democrat in Republican clothing. In late March Dold’s press office sent out a release announcing that Dold had advanced to a “contender” in the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program; a group assembled by the middle-aged congressman Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan. It touted candidates who eschew “President Obama’s and Nancy Pelosi’s failed policies.”

In 2012 then-incumbent Dold vastly outraised Schneider—by close to $2 million—but this time their buckraking is more even, with Schneider running slightly ahead in the first quarter: $550,000 to $521,089; cash on hand $1.3 million to Dold’s  $1,285,122. Schneider recently observed that it’s a lot easier raising money when he can introduce himself as “Congressman Schneider.”

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