Ex-pols’ campaign funds are gifts that keep giving
Nearly 20 years ago, former Gov. Pat Quinn looked like a proverbial pauper.
Quinn had less than $150 in his campaign war chest as of June 30, 1998, a seminal moment for campaign funds in Illinois. As part of a campaign-finance reform bill passed by the legislature that year, money collected after that date could not be spent for personal use. Money already in the bank could be spent on virtually anything, so long as pols paid income taxes for money spent on themselves. While some elected officials had six or even seven figures in the kitty, Quinn was nearly broke.
The legislature’s reform move was forced by Management Services of Illinois, a Springfield company that had showered Gov. Jim Edgar and other public officials with campaign contributions and gifts while landing a lucrative contract with the state Department of Public Aid. Taxpayers were bilked out of $7 million paid to MSI for work that wasn’t done, federal prosecutors charged. A co-owner of MSI was convicted on corruption charges, as was the company itself, plus a top Department of Public Aid administrator.
The message seemed clear.
“Given the developments over the last several months at the MSI trial…it seems to me that actions should be taken to eliminate the gravy train in Springfield,” House Speaker Michael Madigan said after the trial.
And so the speaker proposed reforms that included limits on the size of campaign contributions, beefed-up disclosure requirements, a ban on spending campaign cash for personal use and a sunset clause that would require former elected officials to shut down campaign funds within one year of leaving office.
It was not an easy sell in the General Assembly, where lawmakers had grown accustomed to anything goes. Once money was received, it could be used for virtually anything, and elected officials could, and did, use campaign accounts to buy cars, pay babysitters to watch their kids and provide nursing home care for loved ones. The family of one deceased lawmaker used campaign money to pay for his funeral.
The reform measure should, ostensibly, have made Quinn a proverbial pauper, given than he had just $149.53 in his campaign fund on June 30, 1998. But when it comes to campaign finance law in Illinois, there’s often a way so long as there is a will, and Quinn’s campaign disclosure reports documenting expenditures since he’s left office prove it.
Stays at hotels in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.? Check. Subscriptions to the New York Times and Chicago Sun-Times? Check. Internet and cable television service? Check, again. Want to see a Chicago White Sox game? Call Quinn – he might be able to help, given that his disclosure reports show that he spent $1,550 for tickets last October and December, plus $2,700 for tickets in January of 2015, plus $350 for Chicago Bulls tickets in February of last year. Reports also show that Taxpayers for Quinn has an employee who makes $2,332 per month and an office in Chicago that cost the committee more than $8,882 in rent during the fourth quarter of last year. The committee spent $4,291 on airfare last year. Reports aren’t clear on destinations or the purposes for trips taken after Quinn became a private citizen. There are also plenty of restaurant tabs, contributions to politicians and donations to charity.
All told, Quinn spent $287,635 from his campaign fund last year, when he was neither governor nor a candidate for any elective office, and he had $424,655 left as of Dec. 31. And Quinn, who could not be reached for comment, isn’t unique.
Campaign disclosure reports show that retired politicians in Illinois use leftover campaign cash for hotels, airfare, gifts, meals, tickets to sporting events and direct payments to themselves. It can take more than a decade for former officeholders to deplete their campaign funds – for example, former Gov. Edgar, who left office in 1999 and announced six years later that he would never again be a candidate for office, still has more than $400,000 in his campaign fund. In some cases, retired politicians have received campaign contributions even after they’ve left office.
While campaign funds can legally exist in perpetuity in Illinois, critics say that it isn’t ideal for a state known more for political gridlock and corruption than good government.
“I guess, in a perfect world, you would want the campaign funds to close, if, in fact, the person isn’t going to be running for office,” says Susan Garrett, chairwoman of the board of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonprofit group aimed at fighting corruption and instilling transparency in politics. “The state has become much stricter on how those dollars can and cannot be used – the good thing is, the state is moving in the right direction. On the other hand, I believe that campaign accounts should be terminated within a year or 18 months after a lawmaker leaves office. That would be the right thing to do.”
Then again, Garrett is a former state senator whose campaign fund is still open three years after her replacement was sworn in. Disclosure reports show that she has donated to political candidates and causes and also spent campaign cash for such expenses as license plate renewal and a subscription to Capitol Fax, a blog devoted to state politics. She had more than $30,300 in her fund when she left elected office in 2013 and had nearly $4,600 left as of Jan. 1, less than the $20,800 the fund owes to her and her husband for loans they made to her campaign in 1998.
Why not pay back the loans and close out the campaign account?
“I left my account open primarily to give to other candidates,” Garrett answers. “I didn’t have a lot of money to begin with. … To me, the money’s been set aside. We (myself and my husband) made that decision that the dollars should be used to support other like-minded candidates.”
Ex- governors keep funds going
At least four states require politicians to shut down campaign funds once they are no longer candidates or elected officeholders. In Maine, for example, politicians must close out campaign accounts within four years of leaving office or losing their last election.
By contrast, former Gov. Jim Thompson didn’t zero out his campaign fund until 2004, more than a dozen years after he left office in 1991. Along the way, disclosure reports show that he got at least one contribution, a $1,000 gift from a Moline restaurant owner in 2000. The reason why isn’t made clear in disclosure reports.
Edgar’s campaign fund has lasted longer than his tenure as governor. He had more than $2.8 million in his campaign account as of June 30, 1998, when state law changed so that money collected after that date could be spent only for governmental or political purposes, as opposed to personal use. Since announcing that he wouldn’t run for reelection, Edgar’s biggest expenditure, by far, has been a $1 million donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities on Dec. 31, 1998, shortly before his successor, George Ryan, was sworn in and was welcomed to the governor’s office by his predecessor with $439 in gifts, paid for with campaign money, from Cigar Czar, a company in Kankakee, Ryan’s hometown.
Like other Illinois politicians (“Lifestyles of the Rich and Elected,” March 17, 2016), Edgar hasn’t been tight with campaign money. For example, in 1998, before leaving office, Edgar spent nearly $1,600 from campaign funds to send Claudia Cellini, daughter of political powerbroker William Cellini, on a trip that included stops in Hong Kong and Nepal. There were also tabs for hotels and meals in India and Singapore around the same time, although who slept and ate on Edgar’s campaign dime isn’t made clear from campaign disclosure reports. In 2011, William Cellini was convicted of federal corruption charges related to his dealings with the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and sentenced to a year in prison.
Since leaving office, Edgar has spent tens of thousands of dollars on airfare, hotels and other travel expenses. He has also donated to such institutions as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Ronald Reagan Society, the Salvation Army, the Vermilion County Animal Shelter and Laurel United Methodist Church in Springfield. Several times, he has purchased flowers (for what occasions aren’t made clear from reports) from his campaign fund and reimbursed himself for mileage.
The tab for a security fence, its location not made clear in disclosure reports, came to more than $66,000 in 1999, after Edgar became a private citizen. That same year, Edgar paid more than $1,200 to Hart, Schaffner and Marx, a Chicago clothing manufacturer, for jackets. Edgar has billed his campaign for thousands of dollars in gifts, with items purchased from Tiffany and Co., Marshall Field’s, Famous Barr and Springfield Clock, among others. He has also given to several political candidates and causes. In 2014, Edgar helped the failed gubernatorial campaign of Kirk Dillard, a former staffer who went on to become a state senator, with $25,000 coming as an outright contribution and an additional $50,000 given as a loan that was repaid in the fall of 2014. On Election Day that year, Edgar’s campaign paid more than $340 to Stretch Limousine, Inc., for transportation. Edgar’s Federal Express bill topped $7,400 in the third quarter of 2012. It is not clear from reports what he shipped or to whom. The FedEx bill came seven years after Edgar vowed that he would never again be a candidate.
“Today I say never – this is it,” Edgar said during a tearful 2005 press conference. “I truly mean it. This is my last political press conference.”
Edgar could not be reached to discuss spending from his campaign account since he left the governor’s office, nor could several other former politicians whose campaign funds remain active years after they left office.
Sports tickets and consulting fees
Not all politicians keep their campaign accounts open.
Former state Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, closed out his campaign account in the spring of last year, shortly after he left the General Assembly to take a top administrative post in the Illinois Department of Transportation. His last hurrah was a $1,457 contribution to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Tennessee, which brought his campaign fund’s balance to zero.
“I just thought it was the thing to do,” Brauer said of his decision to close his campaign account. “I didn’t need it.”
Some ex-politicians, apparently, do need the money, or at least think so. For example, former Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, who didn’t run for reelection in 2012, still had more than $417,000 in his campaign fund as of Jan. 1, according to disclosure reports. Bomke was never seriously challenged at the polls after winning his first election to the state Senate by 51 percent in 1996. He won by nearly 73 percent two years later, when the General Assembly established June 30, 1998, as the cutoff date – candidates could pocket funds collected prior to that point, so long as they paid income taxes, but could not spend any money collected afterward for personal use. Bomke then had more than $121,000 in his campaign account.
Disclosure reports show that Bomke has been slow to spend money that piled up even when the senator was a lock to win reelection. Bomke had more than $472,000 in his campaign fund when he left office in 2013; as of Dec. 31, he had disposed of less than $55,000, mostly via contributions to charity, GOP political committees and Republican candidates.
Bomke could pocket more than $121,000, the amount he had on hand when the law on personal use of campaign funds changed in 1998. He said he has no plans to do that, nor does he have any plans to close out his campaign fund anytime soon.
“My wife and I will continue to distribute the money to political candidates and community organizations in trying to be as helpful as we can with those organizations,” Bomke said. “We’re not going to spend it all at once.”
Former state Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, had nearly $100,500 in his campaign account as of Jan. 1. He had more than $45,000 on hand as of June 30, 1998, and so can spend that amount however he likes so long as he pays income taxes if the expenditure is for something personal. Appointed last fall to head the state Department of Agriculture, Poe could not be reached to discuss what he might do with his campaign money now that he is no longer a candidate for office.
And then there is Emil Jones, Jr., former president of the Illinois Senate, and, arguably, the poster child for anything-goes campaign spending once politicians leave office.
Jones established his campaign fund in 1974 and had a balance of more than $577,600 as of June 30, 1998, the date when politicians were no longer allowed to spend campaign money for personal use. Jones had more than $1.2 million in 2009, when he left office.
Jones’ disclosure reports show that the catering bill for his retirement party at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago totaled more than $70,000 in the spring of 2009, when he was no longer a senator. The hotel, however, gave back more than $2,500 in overcharges, according to reports.
The tab for Jones’ going-away party was the least of it, disclosure reports show.
Since 2009, Jones has spent more than $104,800 on Chicago Bulls tickets, according to disclosure reports. During that same time period, he has also loaned himself $58,000 and paid back $20,000. He has also loaned Emil Jones III, his son who took over his Senate seat, at least $13,300, according to reports that show an additional $13,400 in loans to “Emil Jones,” without making clear whether the money went to the younger or elder Jones. All told, the campaign since 2009 has loaned at least $84,700 to either the elder or younger Jones, with $27,700 of those loans outstanding as of Jan. 1. Neither a telephone call nor an email query to Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, was returned.
The former senator last year paid himself $40,000 from his campaign fund for consulting, although two consulting firms he established after leaving the Senate had been dissolved by the secretary of state in 2010 and 2014 for failure to file required annual reports. Jones also paid himself $3,500 last year from his campaign fund for “field work.” In 2014, Jones collected $100,000 from his campaign fund for “political work.”
The retired senator has a zest for travel, judging from disclosure reports showing that his campaign fund since 2009 has spent more than $20,200 for airfare and hotels involving such destinations as Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Florida and Puerto Rico. He also appreciates fine meals and socializing, given that disclosure reports show that campaign money has been spent for dues and meals at the Sangamo Club in Springfield as well as membership dues for social organizations in Chicago.
There have been a smattering of contributions to the erstwhile senator, with Hewlett Packard donating $4,000 to Jones’ campaign fund in 2011, two years after he left office. The 3M Corporation gave $500 in 2013, the AKA Foundation of Chicago gave $250 that same year and the political action committee for Township Officials of Illinois gave $400 in 2012. His son, the sitting senator, contributed $5,000 in 2010. But the biggest contributor to Jones’ campaign fund since the senator retired has been Jones himself.
Records show that Jones has given $61,000 to his own campaign fund since leaving office. It’s not clear why. State law bars individuals from contributing more than $5,400 to a candidate, but committees can contribute considerably more, and so it is possible that Jones used his committee to make contributions larger than he could have made as an individual.
Politicians can use campaign cash collected prior to June 30, 1998, for anything so long as income taxes are paid on expenditures deemed personal. Jones’ disclosure reports show that he’s paid $13,480 in taxes to the state and to the federal government from his campaign fund since leaving the Senate in 2009. It’s impossible to say from public records whether Jones has paid additional taxes from other sources.
Slightly less than half of the more than $1.2 million Jones had in his fund when he left the Senate had been collected prior to the law changing in 1998, so he can use it for anything. The other half can be used for expenses incurred in carrying out governmental duties or performing public service, but not for personal things. Former Gov. Quinn, who received a $100,000 contribution from Jones’ campaign fund in 2010, $25,000 in contributions in 2013, a $50,000 contribution in 2014 plus $250,000 in loans in 2014, appointed Jones to head the state Sports Facility Authority in 2011, two years after Jones left the Senate. It isn’t clear whether Jones spent campaign money on Bulls tickets, airfare, hotels, meals and other things in connection with his duties as chairman of the authority that built and owns U.S. Cellular Field and also helped with renovations at Soldier Field. If so, those expenditures wouldn’t deplete the amount collected prior to the 1998 law change that he is allowed to pocket, so long as he pays income taxes. Shortly after being sworn in, Gov. Rauner replaced Jones on the sports facility authority.
But Jones isn’t hurting for money. He still had nearly $230,000 in his campaign fund as of Jan. 1.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.