The fallout from last week’s bombshell federal extortion charges against Ald. Edward M. Burke has already forced mayoral candidates to denounce him and pledge to return campaign contributions.
Will members of the City Council do the same?
On Sunday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle denounced Burke, the city’s longest-serving alderman, and said she would return more than $116,000 he raised for her at a fundraiser he held at his home last January. That followed promises last month by Preckwinkle and fellow mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza to donate the thousands of dollars each had received from Burke directly.
But for Burke’s aldermanic colleagues, the spotlight has been less harsh, despite the fact that the longtime city power broker has showered his fellow aldermen with thousands of dollars in campaign cash over the past two decades, according to a Reporter analysis of state campaign finance records.
On Monday, Aldermen Joe Moore (49th), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), and John Arena (45th) jockeyed for a spot in front of the television cameras at City Hall to suggest good government reforms in light of the corruption allegations against Burke. But each of them has accepted campaign contributions from the powerful alderman.
In fact, it is easier to make a list of sitting aldermen who have not received donations from Burke’s campaign funds than to list all those who have. Thirty-six of the city’s 50 alderman have received some money from Burke’s three political committees, which together have meted out more than $102,000 to current aldermen. (That doesn’t count another $122,000 to ward democratic organizations, which are run by ward committeemen — who are often the same as the alderman.)
By far the biggest beneficiary of Burke’s largesse is Ald. Patrick O’Connor, the council’s second longest-serving alderman and vice chair of the finance committee, which he took over when Burke resigned from the post last week.
O’Connor, who has been in office since 1983, has received at least $19,000 from Burke’s committees since 2002, according to state campaign finance records.
O’Connor did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Aldermen Emma Mitts (37th), Howard Brookins (21st) and Willie Cochran (20th), all members of the council’s Black Caucus, have each received $6,500 or more from Burke’s committees. Cochran, who is facing his own federal indictment for allegedly shaking down businessmen and misusing campaign funds, is not running for re-election. All but one member of the Black Caucus, Derrick Curtis, has received some money from Burke.
Not all donations went to Burke allies
Spreading campaign cash to his fellow aldermen is one way that Burke has maintained his political clout and his powerful committee chairmanship, said Dick Simpson, former alderman and professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“If you looked at other alderman, while you would see they have contributed to a few fellow aldermen, maybe their close friends, they haven’t contributed in a significant way,” Simpson said. “Burke is a major outlier.”
Not all of Burke’s campaign money has gone to aldermen who are politically allied with him. Nearly every member of the council’s Progressive Caucus, which has typically painted itself as against the old-school style of Chicago machine politics that Burke embodies, have also accepted Burke campaign funds.
Ald. Ricardo Muñoz, 22nd Ward, a Progressive Caucus member who made his own appearance in court last week on domestic violence charges, received more than $5,000 from Burke’s committees from 2002 to 2011. He hasn’t received any money since.
Muñoz, who was appointed to the council in 1993, had often appeared at odds with Burke and even took a shot at him when he announced in July that he’d be retiring at the end of this term.
“I don’t suffer from founder-itis or incumbent-itis like Burke,” he told the Tribune. “I don’t have to be here when I’m 72 years old.”
Even 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack, one of the most outspoken aldermen in the Progressive Caucus, who co-sponsored a bill last month that would have removed the $100 million workers’ compensation fund from under Burke’s control, has received $1,450 from Burke’s committees, most recently in January 2017.
Waguespack said he thinks the money came from various fundraisers that Burke has attended over the years.
“When I go to an alderman’s event, I’ll pay for whatever you go to,” he said. “I’m assuming it’s the same thing.”
He said he was actually “kind of surprised” when Burke showed up to a fundraiser of his a few years ago and said he was sure there was no quid pro quo.
“Ed Burke and I have always butted heads, and I’ve never really gotten along with a lot of what he’s done,” Waguespack said. But he demurred when asked if he would return the donations.
“I could take a look at it,” he said. “But in my situation, I’ve just never looked at it as you need to do something with a donation.” [Waguespack later donated the $1,450 he received from Burke to the Montford Point Marines.]
Of the 44 aldermen running for re-election, 18 have received campaign cash from Burke’s committees since the last election (not including Burke himself).
Asked whether aldermen should consider returning Burke’s contributions now that he’s been charged by the feds, Simpson was quick to respond:
“I think if it was in this election cycle, they probably would be wise to do so,” he said.
Campaign Contributions from Ald. Ed Burke to sitting aldermen
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Source: Reporter analysis of state campaign finance records, as of Jan. 4, 2019.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ald. Deb Mell received $3,000 from Ald. Ed Burke’s committees. $1,500 of that money was given to the committee of Mell’s father, retired Ald. Dick Mell. The remaining $1,500 was reported as a donation after Dick Mell retired, but does not appear in either Deb Mell’s or Dick Mell’s campaign committee and is therefore unaccounted for. The total amount given to current candidates and the total number of candidates who received money from Burke have also been updated.
A previous version of this story misstated the year Ald. Patrick O’Connor was first elected alderman. It is 1983, not 1998.