Toni Preckwinkle’s mayoral campaign acknowledged Thursday that Preckwinkle received a $10,000 campaign contribution that Ald. Edward Burke (14th) allegedly muscled from a Burger King franchise owner but said she knew nothing about the alleged shakedown and returned the contribution because it exceeded legal limits.
Tucked away in the 37-page criminal complaint that accuses Burke of demanding Burger King’s property tax appeals work is the allegation that the City Council’s most powerful and longest-serving alderman also demanded a campaign contribution for “another politician.”
The Burger King franchise owner “felt obliged to give” that money “in order to prevent Burke’s further interference with Company A’s restaurant,” the complaint states.
Identifying the Burger King officials only as “Individual A and Individual B,” the complaint states, that Burke “asked them to attend a political fundraiser for another politician.”
On Jan. 19, 2018, Burke held a fundraiser at his home for Preckwinkle’s re-election campaign as county board president.
“Individual A made a $10,000 donation to a campaign committee for the politician, which was subsequently reduced to within the campaign contribution limit of $5,600,” the complaint states.
John Hennelly, a senior adviser to the Preckwinkle campaign, acknowledged Thursday that Preckwinkle received a $10,000 electronic donation that month from Burger King franchise owner Shoukat Dhanani.
Dhanani’s fast food empire touts itself as the second-largest Burger King franchisee in the world, with more than 500 restaurants spread across six states. In a 2016 Forbes profile, the Houston entrepreneur estimated the net worth of his several businesses at more than $2 billion.
The contribution was automatically returned because it exceeded the $5,600 cap on campaign contributions from individuals, Hennelly said.
What Preckwinkle did not know — until the feds brought the hammer down on Burke — was that Preckwinkle had been the beneficiary of an old-fashioned Chicago shakedown, Hennelly said.
“She’s disgusted by it. That is not Toni’s values at all. Any donation that was made under those circumstances, we would return immediately,” Hennelly said.
“At the time when we returned the donation, it’s not because we were aware of Burke’s behavior. We were completely unaware. It was returned because it was a violation of the law on the limits. If we had known how Burke was behaving, we wouldn’t have had anything to do with it at all.”
Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot has accused Preckwinkle of trying to muscle her out of the crowded race to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
On Thursday, Lightfoot demanded that her former colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s office “investigate each and every campaign contribution” that Preckwinkle received “to determine if any other contributions were extorted or otherwise tainted.”
Lightfoot further demanded that Preckwinkle follow through on her promise to remove Burke as head of judicial slatemaking for the Democratic Party, explain what she promised Burke in return for holding the fundraiser at his home and “disgorge” all contributions she raised there.
“Ed Burke does nothing without seeking a quid pro quo . . . The fact that he, as part of the alleged extortion, put the arm on this business person to give a donation to Toni Preckwinkle says that there is an expectation that Burke would get something in return,” Lightfoot said.
Hennelly emphatically denied any quid pro quo.
“Absolutely not. Anyone who knows Toni knows that would never happen,” he said.
Hennelly argued the fundraiser at Burke’s home resulted from a friendship that Preckwinkle has with Burke’s wife, Illlinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, over their “shared passion” for criminal justice reform.
“Toni did not have a relationship with Ed Burke. They were on opposite side of the issues in the City Council then went their separate ways,” Hennelly said.
Last month, Preckwinkle returned $12,800 in contributions that Burke has personally donated to her over the years but refused to return the money she raised at his house.
On Thursday, Hennelly refused to say whether Preckwinkle would honor the promise she made then to return money raised at the Burke fundraiser if the alderman was criminally charged.
Still, the question remains: Will Preckwinkle be tainted by the Burke criminal complaint because she was the unintended beneficiary of his alleged strong-arm tactics?
“The voters of Chicago know Toni. They know her long record as a reformer . . . They’ll understand that she had nothing to do with what Burke was doing,” Hennelly said.
“Toni would never, ever allow this sort of activity to go on at all. We rejected the money because it was a violation of state law. When we found out today that Burke had engaged in abhorrent behavior, we were profoundly upset.”
In an emailed statement, Preckwinkle demanded Burke resign as alderman.
She noted that the Burkes and mayoral candidate Gery Chico, a longtime Burke friend and underling, “volunteered to host” the fundraiser at Burke’s home and were “solely responsible for organizing and fundraising of this event.”
“Today, it has come to my attention that at that time an individual attempted to contribute through my website. This contribution was not accepted. My campaign has never been contacted by the authorities, and I am confident that my staff followed proper protocol,” Preckwinkle was quoted as saying.
Chico, who is also running for mayor, accused Preckwinkle of “being dishonest about her role outlined in a criminal complaint” to “deflect responsibility.”
“She personally called me and solicited a donation and requested that I help her raise money. While I was not a co-host, I, along with dozens of others, was present at the event where I contributed $750,” Chico said in a statement.
“Let me be clear, I have no knowledge whatsoever about the $5,600 contribution that she accepted and is referred to in the criminal complaint. I have contributed to Democrats throughout Illinois, even when I don’t entirely agree with their policies or taxes that they push through.”
Contributing: Tim Novak, Mitchell Armentrout