The atmosphere, at first glance, screams college dorm or crunchy granola coffee shop.
Worn couches are filled with 20-somethings on laptops. Brightly colored posters deck the walls, and a batch of celery root soup is cooking in a crockpot in the back.
This is CREDO SuperPAC, a group tasking itself with helping defeat Congressman Joe Walsh, the McHenry Tea Partyer it has labeled one of the "most odious members of Congress."
SuperPACs are no strangers to this congressional race -- which is high on the list of seats Democrats hope to gain to reclaim the House in November. Republicans and Walsh supporters are doing everything they can to thwart those efforts.
More than $3 million in outside money has poured into the suburban 8th District, which stretches from Barrington Hills in the northwest to Villa Park in the southeast. More than $2.35 million of that pot has been spent to support Walsh or oppose his competition, Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
CREDO, however, is the only SuperPAC based in the district, with its headquarters unobtrusively tucked away in an Elk Grove Village strip mall. And the way the group is doing things runs counter to the typical practices of other SuperPACs in this race, including Washington, D.C.-based Now or Never SuperPAC, which has swooped in late and spent big.
Instead of receiving huge donations from a handful of individual donors, CREDO -- which set up shop in Elk Grove Village in April -- aggregates small donations from thousands of donors across the country, splitting its $3 million pot among 11 House races nationwide.
In the 8th Congressional District, CREDO has spent less than $165,000 so far, said new media director Eric Ming. All the same, organizers are hoping the group will have a large impact through a "grass-roots effort" centered around phone banking and neighborhood canvassing.
One midafternoon last week, Ming, a 2010 grad of St. Norbert College, supervised a group of a dozen volunteers, mostly senior citizens, as they made phone calls.
"I have just one question to ask you: Are you voting for Joe Walsh or Tammy Duckworth?" Ruth Farnham, a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher from Hanover Park, asks over the phone, before launching into a bit about Walsh's record, which she describes as extreme.
Farnham, who was active in the school District 59 teachers union, and whose husband is a precinct captain, says "staying involved" in local politics is a way of life for her. She is one of nearly 700 volunteers who have signed up with the group in the 8th District race, Ming said.
A total of five SuperPACs are involved in the race, with nearly $2 million spent by Now or Never, which sources say plans to funnel even more cash into the race in the coming weeks.
The New Prosperity Foundation, founded last year by Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz, has spent $283,026 as of the end of last week on the 8th District race, mostly on mail pieces and local television ads. The SuperPAC's focus is on maintaining a Republican congressional majority in Illinois with what spokeswoman Christine Dudley calls a "strategic local ground game."
Dudley said Illinois' 8th District is one of six congressional races in the suburbs and downstate that the group has invested in. Federal Election Commission filings show New Prosperity has spent just shy of $1 million so far in all.
Donors to candidates' standard political action committees are prohibited from contributing more than $5,000 to a campaign each election cycle. But SuperPACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, a product of a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010, known commonly as the "Citizens United" case, which found the government cannot ban spending by corporations in elections.
While SuperPACs are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates, they can spend unlimited amounts of money to promote the candidates they back or criticize those they oppose, with fewer restrictions than a candidate's own campaign committee has under federal election law.
Both CREDO and New Prosperity Foundation make a habit of disclosing donors, while Now or Never has been less transparent as it continues to lead in the 8th outside spending game.
Now or Never SuperPAC jumped into the 8th Congressional District race last month, making several large ad buys on local television stations, the first immediately after it received its first $1 million check from Americans for Limited Government, a nonprofit group Walsh helped co-found in the late 1990s, an issue that Duckworth raised last week. The SuperPAC has only invested in one other race besides the Illinois 8th District -- the U.S. Senate primary in Missouri, where it supported Republican Sarah Steelman, who lost.
Now or Never spokesman Tyler Harber said the group secured support from Americans for Limited Government "after we demonstrated effectiveness and presented our independent expenditure plan."
But Harber has largely skirted questions about why Walsh is receiving so much help from the group, and he has not provided details about who calls the shots about where money is spent. As a nonprofit, Americans for Limited Government isn't required to disclose its donors. And Rick Manning, a spokesman for the group, told the Daily Herald that the group does not make a practice of discussing its donors.
Meanwhile, at CREDO's offices in Elk Grove last Wednesday, some volunteers said their work for a "SuperPAC" has raised eyebrows around friends and neighbors.
Marty Bergerud, a 62-year-old retired software engineer from Hoffman Estates, described himself as previously apolitical when "everyone cooperated back then" -- meaning Congress.
But as a government default loomed in August 2011, he said, he felt scared that the country was unraveling.
"My wife was surprised at first, yeah," he said of his volunteering for a SuperPAC. "But I had to do something."