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Madigan’s 700K club: Seven pols give big bucks to speaker — as his legal bills pile up

Since the beginning of July, those allies of the powerful Illinois House speaker have put three quarters of a million dollars into the speaker’s two political committees: Friends of Michael J. Madigan and the 13th Ward Democratic Organization. 

Mike Madigan.
House Speaker Mike Madigan addresses the City Club of Chicago at the University Club of Chicago in 2015.
Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

Seven legislators gave Mike Madigan a whopping $751,400 within the last few weeks — just as the powerful Illinois House speaker’s legal bills mount and federal investigations touch some of his allies.

The lawmakers who spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times about what for most were six-figure donations insist it’s business as usual, routine fundraising by the powerful Southwest Side Democrat, who also serves as Illinois Democratic Party chairman.

“I’ve contributed to others in the past at similar levels,” said state Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, who gave $57,800. “It wasn’t out of the ordinary.”

What is out of the ordinary is Madigan’s growing legal bills.

So far this year, the speaker has spent $453,608 on lawyers from his campaign fund. Many Illinois politicians dip into their political accounts to pay legal expenses, but the amount Madigan has spent is raising eyebrows.

The legislators interviewed did not ask why Madigan needed the money.

Since the beginning of July, those Madigan allies have plunked three quarters of a million dollars into the speaker’s two political committees: Friends of Michael J. Madigan, and the 13th Ward Democratic Organization.

House Speaker Michael Madigan
House Speaker Michael Madigan talks with reporters in Springfield in 2015. File Photo.
Chicago Sun-Times file

That hefty cash infusion consisted of contributions of $57,800 — the maximum allowed by the Illinois Board of Elections this cycle — to one or both of those committees.

Six of the allies who ponied up from their own committees this month gave the max to both Madigan funds, meaning they each forked over $115,600, election board records show.

The $100,000-plus club included House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago; Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd); and State Representatives Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside; Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside; Kathleen Willis, D-Addison; and Marcus C. Evans, D-Chicago.

Friends of Michael J. Madigan has $7.4 million cash on hand, records show. Typically, the biggest contributors to that fund are super PACs, not politicians.

Moeller said she got the call last week from a Madigan worker requesting one maximum contribution — which amounts to nearly a third of the $184,000 she reported in her own campaign war chest at the end of June. That’s the biggest single contribution Moeller’s fund has ever given, records show, though she has sent a handful of other $50,000-plus gifts to fellow House Democrats over the last four years.

Moeller, like most of the others who gave this month, said she didn’t ask and wasn’t told what the money was for, and shrugged it off as a normal ask ahead of another election cycle.

State Rep. Anna Moeller
State Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin. File Photo.
Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

“He’s the party chairman. During campaigns, we’re often supporting fellow members of the caucus, and this is in the party,” Moeller said.

Evans called it “normal procedure” with primary season looming. Nothing more than “regular party-building activity,” Harris said.

Zalewski said he was “happy to oblige” with the next election coming up in March.

Welch not only contributed but was outspoken about his support for the longest serving statehouse speaker in the country.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside; House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago; Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd); and State Representatives Marcus C. Evans Jr., D-Chicago; Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, and Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.
The 700K Club: Top row, left to right, state Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside; House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago; Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd); bottom row, left to right, State Representatives Marcus C. Evans Jr., D-Chicago; Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, and Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside. File Photos
Seth Perlman/AP, Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times, Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times, and Brian Jackson/ Chicago Sun-Times

“I actually believe it was because of his leadership that we have the super majority that we have currently,” Welch said. “And so, I support the speaker, and I’ll continue to support the speaker, and that’s why I donated to those accounts to continue to elect Democrats.”

Tabares and Willis didn’t return messages seeking comment.

Madigan typically hasn’t received such large contributions from his members, instead taking in big checks from labor unions and other PACs. Usually, the Democratic Party of Illinois, which Madigan also controls, doles out cash to legislators’ and other candidates’ campaigns on his behalf.

Although Madigan hitting up legislators for cash is unusual, it is not entirely without precedent. Several legislators donated the maximum allowed amounts in 2016 and 2017 to either Madigan’s committee or the Democratic Majority. The limits were $53,900 in 2016 and $55,400 in 2017.

As for the money Madigan is spending on legal fees, $297,349 went to the firm Hinshaw & Culbertson, $62,398 went to his longtime attorney Michael Kasper; also a ComEd lobbyist; $50,275 to powerhouse firm Mayer Brown, $37,107 to Fox Swibel Levin & Carroll and $6,476 to Discovery LLC.

The earliest sign of Madigan’s potential legal trouble this year came when a federal court affidavit first obtained by the Sun-Times revealed that Madigan had been secretly recorded during a 2014 meeting with then-Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and a developer who wanted to build a hotel in Chinatown.

Though Madigan did not appear to cross any lines in that meeting, the document revealed that federal investigators have had their eye on Madigan for years. Specifically, the affidavit said they believed Solis had “agreed to take action in his official capacity as an Alderman for private benefits directed to Michael Madigan.”

The home of Madigan ally Mike Zalewski, a former 23rd Ward alderman whose son is Rep. Michael Zalewski, was raided in May. The elder Zalewski was also subpoenaed. His lawyer, Thomas Breen, declined to comment.

Ald. Mike Zalewski
Then Ald. Mike Zalewski at a City Council meeting in 2014. File photo.
Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

Madigan’s legal troubles also involve a pair of civil cases in federal court. Shortly after news broke of the 2014 recording, lawyers in one of those civil cases released a transcript of a deposition of Madigan taken last September. In it, Madigan was asked about Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who in a few months would find himself at the center of the hottest criminal investigation in town.

“I would not describe it as a close working relationship,” Madigan said of Burke.

Madigan was deposed in the civil case filed by Jason Gonzales, an unsuccessful primary challenger who claims Madigan planted “sham” candidates on election ballots. Gonzales’ lawyers are trying to convince a judge to let them take the case to a jury.

Another lawsuit followed the uproar early in 2018 over accusations made by Alaina Hampton, a former campaign consultant, against Madigan aide Kevin Quinn, younger brother of Ald. Marty Quinn (13th). Hampton said Quinn sent her unwanted text messages and phone calls in pursuit of a romantic and sexual relationship.

Hampton then filed her federal lawsuit against Madigan’s political committee and the state Democratic Party over the “severe and persistent sexual harassment” that she alleges went ignored for nearly a year despite her complaints.

A Madigan spokesman did not return calls for comment on the contributions.

Contributing: Mark Brown