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Mihalopoulos: Outsider Quinn has inside track with campaign stash

Former Gov. Pat Quinn participates in the Take Charge Chicago petition drive— during a Chicago Teachers Union rally outside the James R. Thompson Center last month. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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After keeping a low profile since his 2014 re-election defeat to Bruce Rauner, deposed Gov. Pat Quinn has re-emerged with a new group pushing for mayoral term limits and an elected consumer advocate at City Hall.

These are the same sort of populist causes Quinn championed during the decades before he fell into the governor’s job, when he was the consummate Illinois political outsider.

Only now, as he leads a grassroots petition drive for his Take Charge Chicago group, Quinn enjoys a mainstream politician’s perk: a campaign fund with hundreds of thousands of dollars left over from his last campaign for governor.

Despite being dramatically outspent in the November 2014 general election — a fact Quinn still loves to point out — his “Taxpayers for Quinn” political committee has plenty of money remaining from that losing campaign.

OPINION

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After collecting more than $26 million in 2014, Quinn reported ending that year with nearly $685,000 still in the bank. Then, in January, he got a refund of nearly $104,000 for TV ads that didn’t air.

Much of the money he had when he left Springfield is gone now. Quinn had about $411,000 in cash on hand at the end of April, according to his most recently filed report.

The committee records also provide a glimpse into what Quinn has been up to since he was ousted. In 2015 and the first three months of this year, Taxpayer for Quinn paid:

  • More than $78,000 to longtime Quinn friend Cheryl Byers and nearly $25,000 to former press aide Billy Morgan.
  • About $50,000 in downtown office rent.
  • More than $80,000 in campaign contributions, including $50,000 to Cook County state’s attorney candidate Kim Foxx.
  • More than $10,500 at restaurants, with Meli Café and The Kerryman among the favorites.
  • Nearly $6,000 for White Sox tickets.

Quinn told me he didn’t think contributors to his failed re-election bid would mind how some of the money ended up being spent.

“When supporters give donations, they give because they believe in me, not in a particular election,” Quinn says.

He says Byers handles requests for his time or help.

“Having been governor of Illinois, believe it or not, I have a lot of people who want me to attend their events or support them,” he says. “I can’t do it myself. I literally get dozens of calls every day.”

Quinn famously loves to watch the Sox from U.S. Cellular Field’s nosebleed seats, but he says he gives many tickets he doesn’t use to “kids who have never gone to a game” and families of soldiers killed at war.

Quinn could use the money in his political fund for his latest crusade, but he has not done that yet. He started Take Back Chicago by making a $25,000 loan to the group.

The effort is about making structural changes to the city’s notoriously unresponsive government, he says, not taking pot shots at Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“So far, I’ve collected 3,565 signatures myself,” Quinn said Monday.

The ex-guv’s new effort could be a worthy, reformist cause — although Quinn knows as well as anyone how voters already can ends terms by voting elected officials out of office.

He also knows some contributors to his 2014 re-election campaign were less than happy with him and gave anyway. Quinn himself told voters at the time, “Please don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.”

It could be that the campaign contributors don’t mind he’s been using some of their money to go out to breakfast and pay his personal assistant.

But they probably now wish, more than ever, that every penny had gone toward trying to stop Rauner.

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