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U.S. Rep Tammy Duckworth is challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois in a key race. U.S. Rep Tammy Duckworth is challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois in a key race.

U.S. Rep Tammy Duckworth is challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois in a key race.

By Madeleine Doubek September 28, 2016

Duckworth stretches Super PAC claim against Kirk

In campaign fundraising email after campaign fundraising email, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Tammy Duckworth notes that, unlike her opponent Republican Mark Kirk, she isn’t benefitting from a Super PAC and needs donations from average Illinoisans.

Duckworth repeatedly references hedge-fund-billionaire Super PACs supporting Kirk, says she doesn’t have any such help and is counting on "your support." In an August 31 email, she says, "But while our campaign has always been about supporters like you, Republican Mark Kirk is outsourcing his campaign to a Super PAC funded almost exclusively by a bunch of hedge fund billionaires. ... I don’t have a Super PAC. I’m counting on your support to continue traveling the state and spreading the word about how I hope to serve working families in the U.S. Senate."

Another fundraising email from Sept. 19 says, "We have a real shot here in Illinois at flipping this Republican seat blue, but we’re up against a flood of super PAC spending that could derail our campaign."

The matchup between incumbent Kirk and Duckworth is on the national radar of both political parties and numerous outside groups as it’s considered one of a handful of races key to determining whether Republicans keep majority control of the Senate. Because of that, it could be expected the candidates, party committees and Super PACs would fundraise heavily. So we wondered whether Duckworth’s repeated claims were true.

Super PAC influence

Super PACs can raise unlimited funds, but they cannot coordinate with a candidate or give directly to a candidate or a candidate’s campaign. That type of outsourcing a campaign to another entity is illegal. Citizens, corporations and organizations face strict limits on how much they can give when they give directly to a candidate. We asked Duckworth’s campaign manager, Matt McGrath, what the campaign’s source was for the claim that Kirk is "outsourcing his campaign to a super Pac."

McGrath noted news stories referencing Independent Voice for Illinois, a Super PAC, or independent expenditure committee, run by Kirk’s former chief of staff and former campaign manager, Eric Elk. McGrath said in an email, "We deduced it by looking at its leadership and public disclosures of its donors, and independent entities who know this stuff inside and out, like, have confirmed it."

Open Secrets, a nonpartisan project of the Center for Responsive Politics that tracks and tallies money in U.S. politics, does show the Independent Voice for Illinois PAC so far has raised nearly $1.3 million, spending $1.17 million against Duckworth and $117,000 in support of Kirk.

Elk has confirmed his involvement in the Super PAC in both the Chicago Sun-Times and Springfield State Journal-Register. He previously described the PAC as supporting the election of people who support "common sense values" of Illinoisans.

Further, the main contributors to the Independent Voice Super PAC are hedge-fund operators and employees as well as entrepreneurs. The Center for Responsive Politics recently took a deeper look at the Senate race in Illinois:

"Outside spending in the 2016 face-off has, thus far, disproportionately benefited Kirk. More than $1.6 million has been spent to back the incumbent or oppose Duckworth, while comparable outlays to help Duckworth come to less than half that, $713,901 to date."

"Chief among the active outside groups is Independent Voice for Illinois," the Center’s story continued, "which has spent a little less than $1.1 million to oppose Duckworth. The Super PAC has received $350,000 from employees of Citadel LLC, a hedge fund, and $250,000 from Elliott Management, a hedge fund management firm. Employees of both companies were also among Kirk’s top contributors in 2010. To date, no single-candidate Super PAC has chipped in for Duckworth."

But the Duckworth campaign said Kirk had "outsourced his campaign." Kirk is benefiting from heavy spending by the Independent Voice super PAC, but federal data show the Kirk campaign has raised $11.3 million and spent $8.4 million for his re-election effort, while Duckworth has raised $10.1 million and spent nearly $5 million so far.

That brings us to the third claim, that Duckworth does not have the support of a Super PAC. As the Center for Responsive Politics reported, no single-candidate Super PAC supports Duckworth, but, their story confirms, $713,901 has been spent by PACs and outside groups to support Duckworth. According to the Center, the Senate Majority Super PAC spent $384 against Kirk and in support of Duckworth and NextGen Climate Action Super PAC spent just under $1,000 against Kirk.

Not all outside spending comes from Super PACs. Duckworth also has been the beneficiary of $623,379 in spending by a nonprofit called Super PACs have to disclose their donors, but nonprofit 501(c)(4) groups like do not.

Screen Shot 2016-09-23 at 5.12.32 PM.png

(Graphic/data, courtesy of Center for Responsive Politics,

Our ruling

Duckworth said her opponent is outsourcing his campaign to a Super PAC funded almost exclusively by hedge-fund billionaires. Kirk is the beneficiary of a Super PAC that so far has spent exclusively on the Illinois U.S. Senate race, but it is not accurate to say he is "outsourcing" his campaign. In fact, by law, "outsourcing" a campaign to a Super PAC would be illegal. And while Duckworth does not have a so-called single-candidate Super PAC, she does benefit from some minimal Super PAC spending as well as some other outside spending by and from state and national Democratic party organizations.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Independent Voice for Illinois PAC, Open Secrets, a nonpartisan guide to money in U.S. elections and policy, accessed Sept. 20, 2016

Independent Voice for Illinois PAC Statement of Organization, Federal Election Commission, accessed Sept. 20, 2016

Vote Vets Super PAC, Open Secrets, a nonpartisan guide to money in U.S. elections and  policy, accessed Sept. 20, 2016

Ad blasts Kirk for withdrawing Trump support, The Hill, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

Democratic Super PAC Targets Senate Republicans Over Curiel , Roll Call, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

Tom Steyer launching $25 million effort to turn out young voters, Washington Post, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

"Funds gush in deep blue Land of Lincoln as Kirk struggles to hold seat," Open Secrets, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

Illinois Senate Race, Open Secrets, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

"Sweet: The inside story on Zopp, Kirk super PACs," Chicago Sun-Times, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

"Morning Spin: Super PAC backing Kirk airs ads criticizing Duckworth on Syrian refugees," Chicago Tribune, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Open Secrets, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

Sen. Mark Kirk, Open Secrets, Accessed Sept. 21, 2016

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Duckworth stretches Super PAC claim against Kirk

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