| by Orlando Ortiz and Michael Graham

Chicago Alderman Marty Quinn (13th Ward) and Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan have violated the Municipal Code of Chicago and Illinois election law by purchasing equipment with city tax dollars, advertising it for use outside of city limits and using it as a platform for political advertisements.

The second part of Project Six’s investigation into aldermanic expense account purchases made by Alderman Quinn’s office shows questionable purchases made with taxpayer dollars, political advertisements on public property, and blurred lines in the relationship between Alderman Quinn and Speaker Madigan’s offices.

Aldermanic expense account and Alderman Quinn’s purchases

The City of Chicago provides aldermen with yearly expense accounts to spend on necessary costs related to the performance of their official aldermanic duties.

The city has rules and restrictions for what can and cannot be purchased with this taxpayer money. Since 2015, each alderman has been allotted $97,000 a year for his or her aldermanic expense account. More details on the aldermanic expense account can be found in the first part of this investigation.

Since 2013, Alderman Quinn’s office submitted expense vouchers to the city totaling $52,513 for a graffiti blaster sandblaster and related supplies.[i] The expenses, divided over four separate vouchers, were from a Texas-based vendor, MMLJ Sanstorm and SodaBlast. The invoices describe the purchase as a “DB-800 Mobile Dustless Blaster, a high productivity machine perfect for a startup mobile paint stripping business . . . able to tackle medium-sized industrial jobs and other high-volume work.”[ii]

Services already provided by city

The Municipal Code of Chicago has 23 explicit categories of what purchases are allowable under the aldermanic expense account.[iii] The only provision the graffiti blaster possibly falls under is the catchall provision, “miscellaneous, ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection to official duties.”[iv]

Because the city already provides graffiti removal services through the 311 system at no extra cost to residents or aldermen, it’s questionable at best whether purchasing a $50,000 graffiti blaster is “in connection to official [aldermanic] duties.”

Using graffiti blaster as a political ad

Alderman Quinn was first elected as 13th Ward alderman in 2011 and re-elected in 2015.

Speaker Madigan has been the 13th Ward democratic committeeman since 1969 and has served as a state representative for the 22nd legislative district since 1971 and speaker of the House in Illinois every year except two since 1983.

According to financial interest statements[v] filed with the Chicago Board of Ethics (BOE), Alderman Quinn serves as a political consultant to Speaker Madigan. The two also share service office space at two locations in the 13th Ward:

  • 6500 South Pulaski Road, Chicago, Illinois 60629
  • 6014 South Central Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60638

Additionally, they both share the Madigan-Quinn website, madigan-quinn.com, where residents can find community news, events and other items of interest.


The graffiti blaster, which is pictured on the website and in at least two pieces of literature paid for by Madigan’s political committees, is advertised as available for graffiti removal to constituents.



the language from Madigan and Quinn’s brochure reads:

“Madigan and Quinn know that maintaining clean neighborhoods has a direct impact on the value of our homes. That’s why their office provides graffiti blasting and painting as a constituent service, removing unwanted graffiti throughout the district.”[vi]

“To help keep our neighborhoods vibrant and protect values, the Madigan-Quinn Service Office removes graffiti throughout the district with graffiti blasting and painting.”

In the pictures of the graffiti blaster, there is a large sign placed on the side reading “State Representative Madigan and Alderman Quinn service vehicle” as well as listing one of the phone numbers for the Madigan-Quinn service office.

It is difficult to see the “State Representative Madigan” sign as anything other than a campaign sign.[vii] The sign cannot be an advertisement for constituent services, because Speaker Madigan cannot provide this type of constitute service through his official government position. He has no budget or authorization to use state funds to purchase a graffiti blaster or pay for its operation. If he is going to provide a service like this, it must be through his political committee as a political service.

There would be no ethical or legal issues if either Alderman Quinn or Speaker Madigan used money out of their political funds to purchase this equipment for use by their constituents. Because Speaker Madigan has control over millions[viii] in political funds across multiple political funds, it is questionable why Alderman Quinn would spend tax dollars for this purchase and violate the city’s campaign and spending laws.

By purchasing the graffiti blaster with city funds, placing a political sign on it, and offering use of it as a constituent service throughout Madigan’s state representative district, Alderman Quinn and Speaker Madigan have crossed numerous ethical and legal lines separating political activity from their governmental roles.

There are two main problems with Alderman Quinn and Speaker Madigan placing their political signs on the side of the city-owned graffiti blaster:

  1. The sign violates the prohibition on using city property for political activity.
  2. The sign constitutes a political expenditure/contribution that Madigan failed to disclose.

Because the graffiti blaster was purchased with the aldermanic expense account, it is city property. Alderman Quinn allowing a “State Representative Madigan” sign to be placed on city property violates Chicago’s prohibition on using “city property or resources of the city in connection with any prohibited political activity.”[ix]

Even if it were somehow determined that the Madigan sign did not constitute a campaigning activity, the sign would still violate a separate Chicago law prohibiting any unauthorized use of city property.[x] A Madigan sign on the graffiti blaster implies Madigan is at least partially responsible for delivering this city-funded service. By permitting the Madigan sign, and therefore enabling Madigan to appear responsible for a service that he legally cannot offer, Alderman Quinn has allowed city property to be utilized in an unauthorized way.

The sign may also constitute either an in-kind political contribution or political expenditure that Madigan failed to disclose.

Illinois law requires that any “gift or anything of value,[xi] knowingly received in connection with the election, or retention of any candidate”[xii] be disclosed as a political contribution. Similarly, candidates or office holders are required to disclose “anything of value, in connection with the nomination for election, election, or retention of any person to a public office”[xiii] as a political expenditure. If Speaker Madigan asked[xiv] a privately owned/operated graffiti blaster enterprise (or snowplow, tow truck, landscaping equipment, etc.) to display his campaign sign, he would have to disclose such as either a political expenditure that he paid for, or an in-kind contribution that he was gifted.

Additionally, unless the graffiti blaster is operated on a wholly voluntary basis (including not being operated by city/state employees during regular working hours), Speaker Madigan is required to disclose these donated services as a political contribution.[xv] There is the small chance that he could avoid this disclosure requirement by paying the individuals who operate the graffiti blaster, either personally or through his political committee. However, this would raise a whole host of other issues over non-city employees operating city-owned equipment. 

How and where the graffiti blaster is used

The Madigan-Quinn literature advertising graffiti removal services consistently states the services are available “throughout the district,” meaning Madigan’s state representative district. This is a problem because Madigan’s district encompasses additional wards besides Quinn’s 13th Ward, and a portion of Madigan’s district extends beyond the Chicago city boundary.

22nd Illinois legislative district, Speaker Michael Madigan (source)

13th Ward, Chicago, Alderman Marty Quinn (source)

Adding to the confusion, one of the vouchers[xvi] submitted for graffiti blaster supplies specified delivery to “The Ward Yard” located at 3720 West 55th Street (a Department of Streets and Sanitation facility), attention of Kevin Quinn. Kevin Quinn is not a city employee but a state employee working in Speaker Madigan’s office. Kevin Quinn is also the brother of alderman Marty Quinn.

State employees are prohibited[xvii] from directing how city tax dollars are spent or how city resources are used.

If the graffiti blaster is being used outside city or ward boundaries, Alderman Quinn would be violating Chicago’s prohibition on “the unauthorized use of any real or personal property owned or leased by the city for city business.”

The Madigan-Quinn office did not answer any of the repeated interview requests or inquiries via phone and email from Project Six about where the graffiti blaster is used, who operates the machine and whether the equipment has ever been used outside of city limits.

Who is operating the graffiti blaster is also a problem for Alderman Quinn and Speaker Madigan.

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) operates a graffiti removal program, described as “a free service offered by the City of Chicago,” that directs residents who wish to access this service to call 311 or visit the Department of Streets and Sanitation website.[xviii]

The city-provided graffiti removal service is governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the city and the Streets and Sanitation employees’ union[xix] and requires graffiti blasting to be done by official Streets and Sanitation workers.[xx]

The contract reads, “Any work which has been traditionally performed by [streets and sanitation workers] shall continue to be performed by said employees . . . except in emergencies.”[xxi]

The collective bargaining agreement between the city and DSS employees also gives sole authority to the city to determine what graffiti-blasting jobs are to be undertaken.[xxii]

So not only must any graffiti blasting done by the city be carried out by unionized Streets and Sanitation employees, but under the city’s contract with DSS workers, the city, not aldermen, has sole authority to determine which graffiti-blasting jobs are to be done.

Blurred government relationship roles and political spending

While there is a legitimate argument to be made that sharing office space or services can increase government efficiency, Alderman Quinn and Speaker Madigan’s relationship blurs the line between attentive constituent services provided by elected officials and an illegal use of city tax dollars.

Besides having an antiquated voucher expense system, Chicago’s lax oversight of the aldermanic expense account system is unacceptable. Aldermen are allowed to spend millions of tax dollars with hardly any scrutiny. Chicagoans deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Chicagoans should not have to live with the possibility, or reality, that their tax dollars are being used to further an elected official’s political career.

The blatant abuse of the aldermanic expense account and the blurred lines between Alderman Quinn and Speaker Madigan is just another example in the long line of abuses by Chicago politicians that Chicagoans have become accustomed to over the years. It is also a clear example of why strong aldermanic spending reforms are so desperately needed.



[i] In total, Project Six found four vouchers submitted to the Department of Finance from Alderman Quinn related to the graffiti blaster. Two vouchers, both dated January 8, 2013, and totaling $46,675, were used to purchase the graffiti blaster. The two other vouchers dated March 4, 2013, and April 4, 2014, totaling $5,838.71, were used to purchase supplies for the graffiti blaster. See evidence packet

[ii] https://www.dustlessblasting.com/equipment/db800mobile

[iii] MCC 2-8-050

[iv] MCC 2-8-050(b)(23)

[v] https://webapps1.cityofchicago.org/efis/view_statement.html?statementId=205486&searchFlag=Y

[vi] http://www.madigan-quinn.com/downloads/CleanUP_neighborhood.pdf

[vii] The Illinois Administrative Code defines “Clearly identifiable candidate” as “one that is described in such a way as to exclude any other candidate so as to leave no doubt in the mind of the person being communicated to as to whom the communication is referring.” Title 26, Chapter 1, Section 100.10(b)(3)(H)

[viii] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-mike-madigan-campaign-fundraising-met-20160102-story.html

[ix] MCC 2-156-135(b)

[x] MCC 2-156-060

[xi] “Anything of value” includes things that do not have an ascertainable market value. Contributions that do not have an easily identifiable market value are still required to be reported “by describing the item, thing, service or good contributed.” 10 ILCS 5/9-1.12

[xii] 10 ILCS 5/9-1.4(A)(1)

[xiii] 10 ILCS 5/9-1.5(A)(1)

[xiv] This would not apply if the expenditure/contribution was considered an “independent expenditure” (i.e., if the private party decided to put up a Madigan political sign on their own initiative). However, for that to apply in this circumstance, it would require that the Madigan political sign be placed without “connection, consultation, or concert with or at the request or suggestion of the public official or candidate, the public official’s or candidate’s designated political committee or campaign, or the agent or agents of the public official, candidate or political committee or campaign.” 10 ILCS 5/9-1.15

[xv] 10 ILCS 5/9-1.4(A)(4) Contribution means “the services of an employee donated by an employer, in which case the contribution listed in the name of the employer, except that any individual service provided voluntarily and without promise or expectation of compensation from any source shall not be deemed a contribution.”

[xvi] This voucher, submitted April 4, 2014, was for graffiti blaster supplies totaling $2,947.88. see evidence packet page 4

[xvii] Non-city employees directing the use of city property or resources would constitute the unauthorized use of city property, which is prohibited by MCC 2-156-060.

[xviii] https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/provdrs/graffiti_blasters.html

[xix] The relevant DSS employees are under the Laborers International Union of North America (Locals 1001, 1092, and 76). The CBA between the city and the union can be found at https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dol/Collective%20Bargaining%20Agreement2/BU54_53_28LABORERSLOCALS1001_1092_76.pdf

[xx] This would be true even if the graffiti removal program isn’t considered work “traditionally performed” by the Department of Streets and Sanitation. A second provision of the CBA requires new work that is within the scope of Streets and Sanitation, or that is currently being performed by Streets and Sanitation, to be performed by Streets and Sanitation. “Whenever the City intends to establish a new job classification or undertakes to perform new work . . . the City shall first consider whether such work is within the scope of work that has traditionally been performed, or which is currently being performed, by one of the bargaining units. If so, such work shall be assigned to a present or new classification within one of these bargaining units.”

[xxi] Pg. 3, Section 1.2 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

[xxii] “Certain rights, powers, and responsibilities belong solely to and are exclusively vested in the Employer . . . among these rights, powers, and responsibilities . . . are all matters concerning or related to the management of the Employer’s operations and administration thereof, and the direction of the working forces, including . . . to determine the services, process, and extent of the Employer’s operation.”


This investigation abides by Project Six’s Guarantee of Quality Scholarship.


Invoice and marketing material evidence packet

All invoices and marketing materials related to Ald. Quinn's graffiti blaster purchase