10/16/2013 11:01 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Illinois Marriage Equality Political Fundraising Lags

Has the fury fizzled?

Leading up to a possible showdown on same sex marriage in Springfield next week, marriage equality advocates have raised a pile of cash for their lobbying operation, but have invested precious little in political financial firepower - PAC money - that they have also pledged to raise to bolster the bill's prospects.

After State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) declined to call the legislation, Senate Bill 10, for a vote before the Illinois House adjourned on May 31, pledging instead Veto Session action, angry advocates exploded in all sorts of rhetorical swagger and vowed aggressive plans to pass the bill in the fall, including funding reelection challenges against lawmakers leaning "no" and boosting those leaning "yes".

On June 17, Equality Illinois, the state's top gay rights group, rolled-out an announcement that it was launching a $500,000 "Fight Back for Marriage" campaign focusing on the 2014 election.

Equality Illinois pledged to use half of the dough toward an "educational campaign" focusing on the collar counties, Downstate, and Chicago neighborhoods where they decided same sex marriage support was slim.

Additionally, Equality Illinois said that it would raise the other $250,000 "in order to match marriage opponents dollar-for-dollar on the political battlefield."

"We will not shy away or be outraised in fighting for our freedom," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. "Everywhere candidates turn in 2014, they'll have to be aware that the information we bring to voters and the direct action in their campaigns might be present to help or challenge them..."

In its June 17 announcement, Equality Illinois said that the $250,000 would be dedicated to not only opposing marriage opponents but also bolstering GOP lawmakers backing the marriage bill against the opposition of the National Organization for Marriage, which has threatened to spend $250,000 to oppose supportive Republican legislators.

"We will defend those candidates who demonstrate a dedication to the freedom to marry through their votes and campaign commitments," said Jeremy Gottschalk, chair of Equality Illinois PAC board of directors. "And we will ensure that those who stand in the way of marriage equality are held accountable to the voters. No opponents of marriage equality can be sure that their re-election campaigns will be easy next year."

For the "education and lobbying efforts" Equality Illinois has raised a hefty $396,700 for its 501c3, exceeding their goal, according to Equality Illinois spokesman Mitch Locin.

Well done.

However, on the PAC side, Equality Illinois' political chest thumping has proved more formidable than its actual fundraising.

In the third quarter, Equality Illinois raised just $25,421. A day after the reporting period closed, it added another $5,000 from Chicago Cubs owner Laura Ricketts.

Asked to characterize Equality Illinois' initial political fundraising, Cherkasov responded gamely by pointing to the PAC's fundraising for the year - including the six months before the campaign began.

"We've had a tremendous year," Cherkasov said. "In year 2013 we raised over $70,000 already."

Of the $25,421 raised in the third quarter, they contributed $21,000 to four lawmakers: State Rep. Mike Smiddy (D-Hillsdale) and State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) each got $5,000 and State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) and State Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein) received $5,750 and $5,250 respectively. That is on top of $30,000 donated to lawmakers days before the second quarter closed.

On September 30 Equality Illinois' PAC had just $5,247.19 in the bank.

Locin said that the initial fundraising imbalance between lobbying and election efforts was strategic and purposeful. It was a question of Equality Illinois' priorities.

"Education and lobbying comes before the election, so that takes precedence at the moment while fundraising for the Equality Illinois PAC is ongoing and will pick up steam as the primary and general elections approach," Locin said in a statement.

That seems reasonable.

Except that the 2014 election has already begun. It began the moment legislators left Springfield on May 31.

Illinois PACs and politicians have been raising campaign cash all summer and cranking up campaign machinery. From June 1 through September 30, Illinois political campaign committees reported collectively 38,232 contributions totaling $44,021,943. In June alone, those committees raked in 12,596 checks equaling $15,561,015.

Heck, one Democratic House candidate alone, Will Guzzardi, who is challenging State Rep. Toni Barrios (D-Chicago), raised $43,000 for his campaign in the third quarter.

Additionally, in mid-August, the Cook County Democratic Party endorsed state and county candidates. On September 3, candidates, precinct captains, and campaign volunteers began circulating nominating petitions for the March 18, 2014 primary. The first campaign brochures have already been printed, passed; Web sites built; offices opened. Multiple lawmakers in both parties are already staring at a primary challenge.

The 2014 election is underway and has been for months.

Heading into Veto Session, no on-the-fence lawmaker - who is already in campaign mode and is calculating the political impact of a same sex marriage vote, is going be scared or reassured by a group with little sense of election urgency and little PAC money already in the bank to back up its threats or its promises.

So, it has not been a lack of anger that has weighed on political fundraising, but urgency.

And that lack of bankable urgency may extract a price.

David also edits, with the help of Capitol Fax's Rich Miller,
The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.