Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Where is Ald. Walter Burnett Jr.’s missing $300,000 in campaign money?

The long-tenured Chicago City Council member says when asked what happened to that money: “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that with you. It’s not my city business.”

SHARE Where is Ald. Walter Burnett Jr.’s missing $300,000 in campaign money?
SHARE Where is Ald. Walter Burnett Jr.’s missing $300,000 in campaign money?

Since 1999, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) has reported investing $375,000 of the $4.2 million in campaign contributions he’s gotten from political supporters — but $300,000 of the invested money has disappeared from his campaign-finance reports, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.

Where’s the missing money?

Burnett won’t talk about it. He has declined to answer reporters’ questions about his campaign reports, which he has frequently amended, some of them as many as five times.

The Chicago City Council member says in a text message in response to questions: “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that with you. It’s not my city business.” 

But he says he hasn’t converted any campaign-fund investments into personal income: “Of course, I didn’t cash them into my personal account.”

Nor has he explained where the money went to the Illinois State Board of Elections, which says it has known for several months that Burnett’s campaign fund stopped reporting what it’s done with the invested contributions, which it’s required to do under state law.

The state elections board has the authority to fine Burnett’s campaign fund. If it deems the offense bad enough, it also could report any campaign-finance violations to the Illinois attorney general’s office to consider for possible prosecution.

But state elections officials have been talking with Burnett’s campaign aide to determine “where the money is or isn’t,” according to a Nov. 3 email from John Levin of the elections board. “Let me see if there’s a way we can do it without filing 20+ years of amended reports.”

Burnett has more than $733,000 in his Friends of Walter Burnett Jr. campaign fund, according to his most recent campaign report, Sept. 30, in which he reported he has zero investments involving contributions.

That $733,000 doesn’t include the missing $300,000 in investments he has reported making with campaign contributions since 1999, when elected officials in Illinois were first required to report any investments made with campaign cash.

Burnett’s two most recent investments were with Wintrust Bank, which holds the mortgage on Burnett’s home. Wintrust also is the landlord of Burnett’s ward office, which is in the same building as the bank’s branch at Madison Street and Western Avenue.

His campaign fund has repeatedly corrected errors in previous campaign-finance reports, including, on July 2, 2021, amending 24 quarterly reports covering six years. It said that was to eliminate a duplicate payment of $19,330 made in 2015 to the 27th Ward Regular Democratic Committee, which Burnett heads.

None of the campaign’s amended reports addressed the status of its investments. 

“They’ve been making an effort to revise their reports,” says Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections. “The committee has taken steps to correct past reports, and we’ll continue working with it to get accurate reports filed.”

About a month after Burnett’s campaign fund amended his reports last year, the Sun-Times reported that he and his wife had been getting property tax breaks since 2013 for homeowners on their residence and also on investment property even though Illinois law allows the homeowners exemption to be claimed only on a single, principal residence. Burnett paid $3,217 to cover property taxes owed from 2016 through 2019 on his investment property. 

The Cook County assessor is allowed to go back and bill for wrongly claimed breaks only as far back as four years. County officials couldn’t say how much more the Burnetts saved from 2013 to 2015. 

Burnett, 59, who represents the 27th Ward — which stretches from the Near North Side through the West Side — has the third-longest tenure of any current member of the Chicago City Council and is serving a term that expires in May. His campaign fund has continued to raise money, but he hasn’t announced whether he will seek reelection. 

A protege of longtime Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Burnett was first elected to the Chicago City Council in 1995 despite having been convicted in an armed robbery and despite a state law banning convicted felons from holding office. He subsequently got a pardon from then-Gov. Jim Edgar so he could run for reelection without fear that he might be knocked off the ballot.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th).

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) has repeatedly filed amended campaign-finance reports to correct errors. But, despite being required to file updates with state elections officials on what he does with his campaign contributions, he has stopped accounting for $300,000 in money from political supporters that he previously reported he had put into investments.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times


Here’s a look at what Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) has reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections since 1999 regarding investments made with money given to his campaign fund by political supporters:

  • A $25,000 “investment purchase” with Wintrust — an investment Burnett’s campaign fund didn’t report for more than a year. It said it made the investment on April 28, 2019, though it didn’t report that until Oct. 15, 2020 — two days after his campaign says it cashed the investment out, putting the money back into his campaign fund. Burnett didn’t report making any interest on this investment.
  • A $100,000 certificate of deposit at the same Wintrust branch on Feb. 27, 2019, reported to the state elections board in April 2019, its next campaign-finance report. This is the largest expenditure Burnett’s campaign fund ever reported. What happened to the money isn’t clear. The campaign hasn’t filed any other reports to show whether the CD earned any interest or what happened to the money.

“There is no readily available answer to this question, so the committee will be asked to clarify the matter,” says Matthew Dietrich, a spokesman for the state elections board.

  • A $50,000 certificate of deposit on Nov. 15, 2001, at a branch of First Eagle National Bank, 1201 W. Madison St., also in Burnett’s ward. Burnett’s campaign promptly disclosed the CD to state elections officials but has never provided any updates to show whether the CD was renewed or cashed out and whether it earned any interest over the past 21 years.

“The committee appears to have reported this only as an expenditure” and “will be asked to clarify the matter,” Dietrich says.

  • A $50,000 CD on March 27, 2001, with American Charter Bank, 847 W. Randolph St., also in Burnett’s ward. His campaign fund reported receiving $53,173 in principal and interest on the investment on April 1, 2002. Later that month, it reported getting $218 more in interest from the bank, though it’s unclear whether that’s related to the CD.
  • A $50,000 CD on Sept. 14, 2000, with Community Bank of Ravenswood, 2300 W. Lawrence Ave. On Dec. 30, 2001, Burnett’s campaign fund reported interest of $2,217 — the only interest it reported making on this. The campaign fund never reported what happened to the original investment of $50,000.

This is another investment the state elections board has asked Burnett’s campaign to explain, Dietrich says.

The bank — which failed in 2010 and was seized by state and federal regulators and is now operated by Wintrust — gave Burnett three campaign contributions totaling $1,200 between the time he purchased the CD and May 2002.

  • A $50,000 CD from Cole Taylor Bank, 850 W. Jackson Blvd., on July 19, 2000.

The Friends of Walter Burnett Jr. fund also reported receiving two interest payments from this bank — $860.72 on Dec. 29, 2000, and $2,240.13 a year later. Since then, the campaign hasn’t reported any other interest and hasn’t revealed what happened to the money it originally invested.

State elections officials say Burnett’s campaign needs to explain this deal.

  • A $50,000 CD on Nov. 30, 1999, from Broadway Bank, 5960 N. Broadway. Burnett’s campaign fund reported getting four interest payments totaling $6,573 from the bank through 2001 but hasn’t reported any other interest or said what happened to the $50,000 investment.

In 2010, federal regulators shut down Broadway Bank, owned by the family of Alexi Giannoulias, who was elected Illinois secretary of state on Tuesday. The bank’s deposits, insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., were assumed by MB Financial Bank.

Dietrich says state officials are seeking an explanation from Burnett’s campaign on this investment, too.

Ald. Edward M. Burke.

Ald. Edward M. Burke.

Brian Jackson / Sun-Times file


Illinois is among a handful of states that allow candidates seeking or holding public office to invest money they collect from campaign contributors — with some strings.

“They do need to account for all investments as investments,” says Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Those reports must be filed with the state board every three months.

Illinois politicians have invested campaign money in CDs, mutual funds and stocks. Among the political campaign funds with the largest investments:

  • Friends of Edward M. Burke has invested nearly $8.7 million with Wells Fargo and Wintrust for the longtime Chicago City Council member representing the Southwest Side’s 14th Ward. Burke is under federal indictment in a bribery and racketeering case.
  • The Illinois State Medical Society Political Action Committee has invested $1.1 million in a mutual fund.
  • Friends of Ald. Matt O’Shea has invested $658,101 with the Beverly Bank & Trust.
  • Former state Rep. Lou Lang has $550,008 invested in three separate accounts.
  • Citizens for John Cullerton, the retired president of the Illinois Senate, has invested $250,124 with Belmont Bank & Trust and Northern Trust Bank

Illinois law requires campaign funds to report certain details regarding their investments, including: the date and description of each one, the number of shares or purchase price at acquisition, the value of the investment at the end of each reporting period and the value of each investment upon liquidation.

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