A Hull of a Guy

Free-spending Candidate Paying for Big Talent

Posted May 2, 2003 at 6:02pm

For the average Senate candidate, doling out almost $1 million in the first three months of an off-election year would understandably raise eyebrows.

But for multimillionaire Illinois Senate hopeful Blair Hull (D), that spending total produces little more than a drop-in-the-bucket shrug from observers, considering he has vowed to spend up to $40 million of his own fortune to win election.

The political neophyte spent $900,000 in the first three months of the year, according to his latest fundraising report filed with the Federal Election Commission. Hull’s total is more than $500,000 above the quarterly spending level of any other Senate candidate running in 2004. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) spent $380,000 from January through March, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who is being challenged in a primary, spent $367,000 in that period.

Hull has already loaned his campaign more than $2 million and he has spent roughly $1.9 million on the race. Hull, who has pledged not to accept political action committee money or individual contributions in excess of $100, is one of at least five Democrats vying to win the seat of retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.).

The first-term Senator sent shock waves through the Illinois political establishment last month when he announced he would not run again. As Roll Call went to press on Friday, Republicans were still awaiting a decision from former Gov. Jim Edgar, their top choice to run for the seat.

Administrative and travel costs accounted for most of Hull’s first-quarter spending.

Hull spokesman Mo Elleithee said the first-quarter spending reflects the campaign’s progress toward building “a real grassroots operation from the ground up” and recruiting a “top-notch staff.”

“We think it’s going to pay off,” he said.

Hull’s campaign payroll amounted to almost $200,000 for the period, during which his report shows he employed as many as 18 people on his campaign staff, although not all at the same time.

According to his report, Hull paid Campaign Manager Mike Henry almost $50,000 in the period, at a rate of approximately $20,000 a month. Henry was campaign manager to unsuccessful 8th district primary candidate Mark Shriver (D), then a state Delegate, in Maryland last year, and ran the statewide coordinated campaign for the Virginia Democratic Party in 2001.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.), a former Goldman, Sachs and Co. chairman who spent $60 million to get elected in 2000, similarly was paying his top two campaign operatives $20,000 a month by the end of 1999.

Hull’s disbursements also reveal that he spent more than $170,000 in consulting and research fees paid to at least 10 different consultants and pollsters.

Among the largest checks Hull’s campaign cut were: $32,000 to Washington, D.C.-based polling firm Bennett Petts & Blumenthal, $35,000 to D.C.-based Kennedy Communications for “research,” and $40,000 to Prairie Group Consulting.

He also paid $11,000 to Crossroad Strategies LLC for “computer consulting” and almost $8,500 to Citigate Communications for “communications consulting.” Citigate’s other clients have included the American Bar Association, Arthur Andersen and Pfizer Inc.

Hull also paid $6,000 in political consulting fees to Kyle R. Hastings, the mayor of Orland Hill, Ill.

One Democratic consultant, who is not aligned with any of the Illinois Senate campaigns, said Hull’s spending amounted to an appropriate investment for someone with unlimited resources and the need to build a campaign infrastructure from scratch.

“You know, $900,000 to a guy like Blair Hull is not the same thing to the rest of us,” the consultant said. “Look, when you’re going to spend $50 million, the first $900,000 is not what you worry about.

“If you have the money to spend there are a lot of things that if you could spend money on them early on, you could save money later.”

Hull’s campaign paid almost $33,000 in rent during the period for a West Grand Avenue office a few blocks off Michigan Avenue, the tony “magnificent mile” of downtown Chicago.

As for the administrative and travel costs, among the disbursements for office supplies, telephone service and airline flights there are glimmers of the more refined lifestyle to which Hull is likely accustomed. Hull’s campaign paid $2,500 on March 24 to the Westin Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fla., for travel expenses during the AFL-CIO’s annual meeting.

Also of note in Hull’s disbursements is a $1,000 contribution to Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Ill.) campaign committee at the beginning of March. Schakowsky was considering a Senate run, but announced in January that she would stay in the House. So far, she has not endorsed any of the Democrats running in next year’s primary.

Following Corzine’s lead in New Jersey, Hull is clearly relying on his deep pockets to win friends among Illinois’ political class. According to records at the state Board of Elections, Hull has contributed more than $190,000 to candidates for state offices in 2002 and 2003.