In 2015, Chicago aldermen received more than $10 million in political contributions. More than $500,000.00 of those donations appear to be in violation of contribution limits and are potentially illegal.
Donating to a political party, candidate running for office or political interest group is one way for voters and taxpayers to support ideas and government policies they care about. But too often, campaign donations become a gateway for corruption. In Chicago, many people and businesses don’t make political contributions out of a desire to see a candidate elected, but instead to establish—or keep—a mutually beneficial relationship with an elected official. That’s because in Chicago, having that positive relationship with an elected official is the only way to successfully run a business, receive necessary city services—or, worse, gain political favors.
Campaign finance limits at all levels of government were enacted with this reality in mind: Limiting the amount of money a person or group can give to a political candidate is intended to prevent influence from being bought or sold. Chicago has clear limits on how much money can be given to elected officials or candidates for office. Yet, as the data show, many aldermen and their donors violate the law by skirting these limitations.
The year 2015 was an election year for Chicago aldermen. By looking at political donations made to city aldermen during that time period, a picture of routine and repeat violations begins to form. While some aldermen operate appropriately within the law and according to campaign finance regulations, many members of City Council receive significant, potentially illegal campaign donations and fund their political clout outside of the law.
In the past 30 years, Chicago aldermen have routinely been tried and convicted of criminal corruption. Even though elected city officials breaking campaign finance laws and serving jail time is commonplace, there has never been a systematic process for reviewing aldermanic campaign contributions in the city. The Chicago ethics ordinance gives the Chicago Board of Ethics the authority to review political contributions. The last publicly reported campaign finance investigation for Chicago was conducted in 2007.
In 2015, the Office of the Legislative Inspector General (OLIG)—which was closed down by City Council later that year—identified approximately $268,000 in potentially improper contributions made to aldermen in 2013. The City Council, however, forbade any details, including the names of donors, names of recipients, dates or amounts of donations, to be released publicly. The limited amount of information that was released publicly ensured taxpayers did not see the full picture of campaign finance violations in Chicago. Many potentially improper campaign contributions found in that report were not returned, and as result, no one was held accountable for these potential violations.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
All campaign donation information is publicly available data through the Illinois State Board of Elections. This report shows a summary of the political donation data organized by city ward, as well as the complete set of data showing all political donations made to aldermen in 2015. Every illegal contribution has also been highlighted and compiled.
In 2015, an election year for the Chicago City Council, aldermen received slightly more than $10,835,000 in political donations. That equals an average of nearly $217,000 per alderman. As this report shows however, that money was not evenly spread among aldermen.
There are many politically connected groups and individuals who donate significant amounts of money to Chicago aldermen.
- In 2015, there was $597,148 in political contributions made to aldermen from business entities and individuals that directly benefited from legislation in City Council.
- Registered lobbyists and lobbying groups contributed $195,394 in political contributions to aldermen in 2015.
- Vendors of the city made more than $1.63 million in political contributions to alderman in 2015.
The Six aldermen who received the most potentially illegal contributions in 2015 include the following:
- Alderman Brian Hopkins received more than $96,700 in potentially illegal contributions.
- Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno received $42,300 in potentially illegal contributions.
- Alderman George Cardenas received more than $30,030 in potentially illegal contributions.
- Alderman Ed Burke received $36,150 in potentially illegal contributions.
- Alderman Brendan Reilly received almost $30,498 in potentially illegal contributions.
- Alderman Pat O’Connor received more than $26,750 in potentially illegal contributions.
This report has been forwarded to the Chicago Office of Inspector General, the Chicago Board of Ethics, the Illinois State Board of Elections, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
This report abides by Project Six’s Guarantee of Quality Scholarship