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Two weeks away from the general election, Illinois Supreme Court candidates find their campaign coffers flush with new campaign contributions. Although most of the contests have heavy favorites coasting to election day, the state’s Democrats still think they can pick up another seat and increase their slim 4-3 majority on the high court, which would help the party in a court battle over tort reform or challenges to political district reapportionment. With campaign finance disclosure reports due to the Illinois State Board of Elections on Monday, the candidates are shown to have received thousands of dollars in donations from law firms, union organizations and the two political parties in recent months. Although running unopposed for a Supreme Court seat from the First District, Democrat Thomas Fitzgerald raised more than $100,000 from July through early October. Fitzgerald, the presiding judge of Cook County criminal court, won a four-way primary in March that was marked by the big-bucks spending of opponent Appellate Court Justice Morton Zwick and his use of a negative television ad implying Fitzgerald was responsible for innocent men being sent to Death Row. Zwick spent an estimated $1 million on the primary contest, compared to an estimated $800,000 by Fitzgerald. Among the big money donors to Fitzgerald’s campaign over the past few months are plaintiff law firms Clifford Law Offices, Power, Rogers & Smith, and Cooney & Conway. That’s in addition to contributions from Hinshaw & Culbertson, Hopkins & Sutter, and Katten, Muchin & Zavis. The race for a court seat from the 2nd District pits former Chicago Bears place kicker and Appellate Court Justice Bob Thomas against Chicago attorney Larry D. Drury. Thomas, too, has been on the receiving end of recent donations from plaintiff law firms, including a whopping $12,000 from the Clifford Law Offices reported on Oct. 23. Other second half donors included Salvi & Schostock, Power, Rogers & Smith, Freeborn & Peters, and Cooney & Conway. All told, Thomas raised just over $100,000 from July to early October, including a $5,000 donation from former Bears Coach Mike Ditka. Drury, on the other hand, raised just under $25,000 — a fraction of the funds of his opponent, making it difficult to mount a credible challenge in a district that includes heavily Republican areas of DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Winnebago counties. Missing from the campaign finance disclosure reports were big-name law firms and contributions from the state Democratic Party, although Drury did receive $1,750 from organized labor groups. The Democrats’ focus of financial help has gone instead to its candidate in the race for the supreme court seat from the Third District, Rock Island attorney Thomas Kilbride. The relative unknown faces a popular state senator and former Knox County State’s Attorney and current lawmaker, Carl Hawkinson, R-Galesburg. According to a finance report filed on Oct. 23, Kilbride had raised about $77,000 for the reporting period of July through early October, including money from labor organizations and $19,000 from the state Democratic Party. But the big party support didn’t come until later in the month, when, in three separate donations, the Democrats put $260,000 into Kilbride’s coffers. Thousands more has been spent by the party to pay for staffers for his campaign. Hawkinson, too, has received support from his party, with the Republicans donating $15,000 in October. Other major financial support for his campaign has come from the James Pate Phillip Campaign Fund with $50,000, the Illinois PAC for Education with a $25,000 donation, $10,000 from Caterpillar Inc. Notable donations from big law firms include those from Chicago-based Freeborn & Peters and Mayer, Brown & Platt. For the reporting period of July through early October, Hawkinson raised more than $120,000.

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