Nicholas Kantas, who married into powerhouse lobbyist family, runs for judge with help from lobbyists
Also among those who’ve helped his campaign in the contested June 28 Democratic primary: a lawyer who was a campaign fundraiser for ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Attorney Nicholas Kantas’ father-in-law, recently retired Illinois lobbyist Al Ronan, isn’t helping him in his race for Cook County judge, according to Kantas’ campaign.
But Kantas is getting assistance from other clout-heavy lobbyists, including his wife Maren Ronan, who’s Al Ronan’s daughter and helping Kantas knock on doors to reach voters.
Several other powerhouse political lobbyists have given money to Kantas ahead of the June 28 Democratic primary. Among the lobbyist contributors in recent months:
• CapitolHall Partners LLC, which gave him $1,000 in April. Based in Chicago and run by Margaret Houlihan Smith, the firm lobbies for clients including Accel Entertainment LLC, one of the biggest video gambling companies in Illinois, and ComEd, which is ensnared in a racketeering case involving former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
“Maren is one of my dearest friends,” Smith says. “She’s actually my roommate in Springfield. I’ve known her probably for 30 years, and I think the world of her. That’s why I’m supporting them. It’s personal friendship.”
She says Kantas is well qualified. “We need more people like him,” Smith says.
• Springfield lobbyist Julie Curry, who gave Kantas $1,000 in April. Her Curry & Associates, LLC, is a lobbyist for a real estate company run by Rick Heidner, a video poker magnate. In 2019, the FBI went looking for “items related to” Heidner when it served a search warrant in a raid of then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval’s Springfield office as part of a political corruption investigation. Authorities later said Heidner wasn’t a target of the investigation.
Curry’s firm has a contractual relationship with Maren Ronan’s lobbying firm, Maren Ronan Ltd., which is based in Western Springs.
Curry says Kantas and his wife are “personal friends.”
• Heather Vaught, who gave Kantas’ campaign $1,000 in January. Clients of her La Grange lobbying company Heather Wier Vaught, P.C., include the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Sports Betting Alliance, records show.
Vaught, who’s a lawyer, handled legal work for Madigan while he was speaker and as aides in his political and government operations were facing sexual harassment accusations.
“I’ve been friends with Maren Ronan for 20 years,” Vaught says. “We went to law school together. Nobody even asked me to give money.”
Kantas — who’s running in a judicial district that stretches from the northwest to the southwest suburbs — also is relying on Berwyn attorney Michael Del Galdo, a Madigan ally and former Madigan political fundraiser, for his campaign. Del Galdo is listed as having provided $2,285 in legal services to Kantas’ campaign, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.
Kantas says of Del Galdo’s role: “Mike’s been helpful in parts of the campaign. He’s not doing anything on a day-to-day basis. I’m running the campaign.”
Del Galdo also is working to help ShawnTe Raines-Welch win another judicial seat in the same district. She’s married to Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Madigan ally who succeeded him in the powerful post.
Kantas, 43, lives in Western Springs and is a supervising prosecutor in Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.
His opponent on the primary ballot, Amanda Pillsbury, also is a prosecutor under Foxx.
The Lyons Township Democratic Organization, run by Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek, helped throw a fundraiser for Kantas in Hickory Hills, records show. Landek, who also is a state senator, is a longtime ally of Madigan, who stepped down from the Illinois House in 2021 after being linked to the ComEd scandal.
Al Ronan’s former lobbying firm was closed after the business pleaded guilty to charges in a bid-rigging case in the early 2000s. He opened another firm but says he’s now retired.
Maren Ronan’s lobbying company has taken over many of her father’s most recent lobbying clients, including one of the major players in the red-light camera industry.
“I haven’t done anything on the campaign” for Kantas “because I had a stroke almost a year ago,” Al Ronan says. “So you know what? I wish him the best, I know how hard he’s working.”
Kantas says his wife isn’t raising money for his campaign.
“She’s helping me go door to door and reaching out to voters,” he says.
He says he’s getting campaign contributions based on “my experience and my qualifications.”