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Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 12:08 am

Check, please

Aldermen collect campaign money

 With no election on the horizon, Springfield aldermen gathered last week at Saputo’s restaurant to snack on hors d’oeuvres and collect checks from labor and construction interests.

Seven aldermen attended, according to Brad Schaive, business manager for Laborers Local 477, which handed out at least $4,000. No city business was discussed, and so there was no violation of the state Open Meetings Act, according to aldermen who attended.

“Once I realized there were more than three of us, I made sure that I was never in a conversation with more than two aldermen at a time, and I made sure we weren’t discussing anything that wasn’t pressing city business,” said Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen.

Theilen said conversation centered on baseball, Springfield’s future and the need for blue-collar jobs. Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer said that he expected to see council colleagues at the affair.

“It was a nice little reception,” Hanauer said. “Then they gave us envelopes, and that was pretty nice.”

Ward 4 Ald. John Fulgenzi, Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso and Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin did not attend, according to Schaive.

Theilen, Hanauer and two other aldermen reported accepting contributions from labor groups and Courtney “Corky” Joyner, who develops property and owns a construction company. A fifth alderman, Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath, reported receiving $6,500 on Sept. 18 from Joyner and the same three labor groups that gave to aldermen last week.

Between Joyner and labor groups, aldermen received $18,500 at the reception. Labor groups that made contributions included the laborers union, Southern Central Illinois Laborers and Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 137. Ward 5 Ald. Andrew Proctor received $4,000 from Joyner and the three groups that also gave $4,500 to Theilen, $5,000 to Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan and $5,000 to Hanauer.

The checks came after aldermen twice in recent months approved proposals pushed by labor groups, developers or both. In May, aldermen voted 9-1 to more than double the acreage of proposed developments that require council approval. Before the council vote, projects on five acres or more required aldermanic approval. Now, developments must consume at least 12 acres before council approval is needed. The 9-1 council vote came after developers urged approval, saying that the old rules were overly cumbersome. Neighborhood activists, including Springfield Inner City Old Neighborhoods, objected, raising concerns about urban sprawl and saying that public and council input is needed to help ensure quality projects.

More recently, the council on Sept. 5 voted to grant tax breaks to EmberClear, a Texas-based company that wants to build a  natural-gas-fired power plant in Pawnee. The tax breaks are worth tens of millions of dollars. More than 100 union members, many bearing signs urging the council to approve tax breaks, attended the meeting.

“I don’t see the EmberClear vote as a labor vote,” Schaive said. “I see it as a community vote. … There is no correlation between contributions and votes.” Schaive added that his union hasn’t changed any policies on donating to aldermen, who typically receive $2,500 per year. “It (the Saputo’s reception) was no different than any other fundraiser,” Schaive said. “There was no city business discussed. There’s nothing hidden. It was in a public place.”

Aldermanic elections won’t be held until the spring of 2019. Theilen can’t run again due to term limits – he said that he may seek a different elective office or take time off from life as an elected official.

Theilen and other aldermen who accepted money last week said that they need campaign cash even when elections aren’t close because they frequently are asked to donate money to other politicians as well as charitable causes.

“When you get elected to office, people immediately think that you’re wealthy,” Hanauer said. “I get hit up for every golf outing, every event you can imagine to donate to.” Hanauer also said that it can be difficult to raise money during campaign season because every municipal elected office is on the ballot at once and donors don’t have unlimited resources.

Hanauer and other aldermen who attended the reception said that donors don’t get special consideration when it comes to council votes.

“I just get very irritated when people try to question my integrity, that I’m doing something because someone’s donated money,” Hanauer said. “I don’t work that way. If they don’t like what I’m doing, I’m happy to give their money back to them.”

Proctor said that he is offended by suggestions that campaign cash buys council votes. “I take each issue on the merits,” he said. Proctor said that he is constantly being asked for donations, often by nonprofit organizations.

“Being in office, sometimes, it’s just as expensive as running for office,” Proctor said.

Donelan echoed sentiments of other aldermen, saying that his vote isn’t for sale and that campaigns are expensive. “Labor’s been kind to me,” Donelan said. “That’s wonderful. We see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues. It’s human nature for people and individuals to donate to someone they believe in.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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