As the Illinois Supreme Court debates whether current law lets lawmakers use campaign funds after being charged with public corruption and other unethical behavior, State Representative Deanne Mazzochi (R-Westmont) renewed her call for Democrats to consider her legislation forbidding just that.
The Illinois Supreme Court recently held oral argument in a case regarding a complaint filed against former 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis. Solis used $220,000 of campaign funds to pay lawyers who were defending him from federal investigations into wrongdoing and public corruption. The State Board of Elections recently tossed out the case, prompting the appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Other lawmakers have used their campaign funds for this purpose; one example is former Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, who spent millions of campaign dollars defending against sexual harassment complaints involving his former chief of staff, as well as the ComEd public corruption scandal. Two justices on the Illinois Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Anne Burke, had to recuse themselves from the decision. Burke’s husband is Alderman Ed Burke, who also has been federally charged.
“This shouldn’t be a matter of ambiguity in Illinois state law. Regardless of how the court eventually interprets current campaign law, this shouldn’t remain a statutory loophole,” Rep. Mazzochi said. “Letting this continue sends the wrong message: that literally, corrupt and unethical public officials who abused their office don’t have to pay for their misdeeds, they can just continue to abuse their office to troll for campaign funds and keep the insider game going. This is not what individuals donate to campaigns for. Spending campaign donations to bail yourself out of your personal mess is a clear abuse, and it is time for this insider privilege to end.”
In rejecting the Solis case, the State Board of Elections said if the General Assembly wanted to enact a specific prohibition on this issue they would need to write it into the law. Rep. Mazzochi’s House Bill 2929 does just that. It prohibits the use of political campaign funds for defense in either a civil or criminal case pertaining to misconduct by a person in his or her capacity as a public official, sexual harassment claims, or discrimination claims. Anyone found in violation of the law will be required to return the contributions or pay them to the state if a contributor cannot be identified or reimbursed.
Rep. Mazzochi first filed the bill in 2020 in response to news reports that then Speaker Michael Madigan spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees defending his campaign from allegations of sexual harassment and himself from other accusations of wrongdoing. At the time, WTTW examined campaign disclosures and found that a number of public officials in the midst of a federal probe spent significant campaign funds on legal fees; including $90,000 from disgraced former State Senator Martin Sandoval, $25,000 from State Senator Tom Cullerton, $200,000 from McCook Mayor and Democratic Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, $40,000 from Chicago Alderman Carrie Austin, and $400,000 from Chicago Alderman Ed Burke.
“Only in Illinois would this practice be this prolific,” Rep. Mazzochi continued. “The State Board of Elections said current law is insufficient to stop this clearly wrong practice, so let’s be clear about it, and change the law.”