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Alderman Burke is hoarding $10 million in political cash

WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that Ald. Ed Burke (14th) controls three campaign funds with a combined balance of about $10 million, an astounding amount for an alderman.

What’s lesser examined is the expenditure side: Burke is barely spending any of that money while raising more at a nice clip.

He is extremely politically parsimonious when it comes to helping other candidates from his war chests, with Gov. Pat Quinn the exception this year and when the governor last ran in 2010.

Between now and November, there will be a lot of focus on money in Illinois politics, with millions of dollars raised — and quickly spent — in the most expensive contests.

And those costly contests are Quinn’s battle against GOP nominee Bruce Rauner; the faceoff between Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and GOP Senate nominee Jim Oberweis; and the rematch between Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., and former Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill.

Throw in other statewide races — and Mayor Rahm Emanuel ramping up fundraising for his 2015 campaign and to play in the aldermanic contests — and you can see that there is a lot of political money being pumped into the Illinois economy.

Political figures stockpile big war chests basically for five reasons:

* Make someone think twice about running against them

* Contribute to other candidates to help climb a political ladder

* Explore running for higher office

* Bankroll a campaign

* Help elect allies

Burke doesn’t need political money for the first four reasons. What political giving he does from his funds seems aimed at boosting a small circle of allies, with Quinn the only one getting a substantial boost.

A member of the City Council since 1969, Burke chairs its powerful Finance Committee. He also is the 14th Ward Democratic committeeman. Over the years he’s been mentioned for higher office, but he’s never made a move.

Burke has made personal political donations to mainly local state and federal candidates through the years. But this is not about his personal giving. It’s what Burke does with donations from other people and political action committees.

In this case Burke is noteworthy because what he mainly does with his political money — compared to his resources — is not much. His major expense, which has run to hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years, is for The Haymarket Group, which handles fundraising and other chores for the three funds.

At present, Burke oversees three streams of political money:

*Friends of Edward M. Burke, with a June 30 balance of $8,218,231. Of that, Burke has locked up $6,349,495 in four investment accounts, three with Credit Suisse and another with Northern Trust. Burke has an option under Illinois law of converting $2,452,463 — the balance as of June 30, 1998 — to personal use after paying taxes.

Last month, the fund reported $13,000 in donations, according to state records.

*The Burnham Committee, with a June 30 balance of $1,123,568. Most political contributions come from that fund.

Since October, the Burnham Committee has cut checks to 31 political committees to total $31,950, with $12,500 of that to Quinn’s campaign. But get this:

In this past week alone, the Burnham Committee collected $36,000 in donations, according to state records. During July and August, the fund took in $55,000.

*The 14th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, with a June 30 balance of $772,041.

This past week the fund reported $35,000 in donations.

At present, the “Friends” fund has morphed to helping Burke politically, mainly through charitable giving.

Since October, the fund has made only five political donations to total $16,200 with $12,500 of that to Quinn.

Contrast that to donations to charitable causes since last October, either for tickets to events or a direct donation from the “Friends” fund.

Between October 2013 and June, that’s $5,000 each to the Catholic Theological Union and Loyola University, the CURE Epilepsy organization and the Merit School of Music; there was $3,000 to the Order of Malta and the Midwesterners scholarships; $2,500 to the Irish American Partnership; $2,300 to Old St. Patrick’s Church; $2,000 to the Anti-Defamation League and $1,750 to the Irish Fellowship.

Recipients at the $1,000 level: the Special Children’s Charities Rush Neurobehavioral Center; the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute; Brain Research Foundation; Children’s Research Triangle; American Jewish Committee; Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library; Gastro Intestinal Research Foundation; Mikva Challenge Grant Foundation; the Extollo Educational Foundation and Build On; and $600 to Keshet.

My guess is that Burke will loan Quinn a few hundred thousand if the governor is in a pinch; he did that in 2010. Burke’s wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke swore Quinn into office, and their daughter Jennifer, an attorney, has a state job.

Isn’t $10 million enough? Not for the donors, who want to keep on Burke’s good side.