Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. still can’t explain what happened with $165,000 in campaign money

What his now-amended campaign-finance reports show is that, in some instances, “You’re telling us you deposited the money back into the campaign fund, and we see no such thing,” a state elections official says.

SHARE Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. still can’t explain what happened with $165,000 in campaign money
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th).

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) has repeatedly filed amended campaign-finance reports to correct errors. But, after six months, he still hasn’t explained to state elections officials what happened with $165,000 in campaign contributions.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) still can’t explain to the satisfaction of state elections authorities what happened with $165,000 he got in campaign contributions.

And state officials say they don’t have the authority to make him show what happened with the unaccounted-for money — or to require him or anyone else who runs for office in Illinois to verify what they say in their required campaign-finance reports.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in November that Burnett had told state elections officials he’d put $375,000 from campaign contributions over the past two decades in investment accounts with various banks. But, over time and despite candidates being required to file updates with state elections officials on what they do with campaign contributions, he stopped including any mention of $300,000 of that money in his required campaign-finance reports.

Now, Burnett has told the Illinois State Board of Elections that the amount he put into investment accounts with banks actually was $400,000 — including a previously unreported $25,000 certificate of deposit.

But, even after filing amended campaign-finance reports covering six years, his filings still haven’t accounted for $165,000.

The bulk of that missing money is from three investment accounts his campaign fund opened with contributions to his political fund: a money-market account that his filings show grew to be worth more than $71,000 and two $50,000 certificates of deposit.

Burnett’s campaign fund has told state officials it withdrew $65,000 from the money-market account at First Eagle National Bank in the West Loop and put it back into his campaign fund.

But, in an email last month to Burnett’s staff, a state elections board official said “I see no evidence” in the amended campaign reports that the money actually did go back into the campaign fund.

And Burnett hasn’t offered any explanation to elections officials about the two missing CDs — one at Cole Taylor Bank, later taken over by another bank, and the other at Broadway Bank, which federal regulators shut down in 1999.

If Burnett’s campaign lost the money when Broadway Bank closed, it could have filed a claim with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to recover it. State officials say they don’t know whether Burnett’s campaign did that.

Burnett — now the longest-serving member of the Chicago City Council and a key ally to Mayor Brandon Johnson as his vice mayor — hasn’t responded to messages seeking comment about what was done with the money, which he raised from supporters since 1999.

His campaign treasurer Diamond Moreno Burnett didn’t respond to calls. A city employee, she is the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s superintendent for Burnett’s 27th Ward on the West Side, making a $114,012 yearly salary. She’s also married to Burnett’s brother.

Since last November, the state elections board has been asking for answers through emails to General McArthur III, who, though he isn’t Burnett’s campaign treasurer, is the person who has been submitting his campaign-finance reports for years.

In February, McArthur filed amended reports to a dozen campaign reports that Burnett had filed during the past six years. But nothing in those corrected reports has any information on what’s happened to the $100,000 from the two CDs.

“I don’t have any comment,” McArthur said when reached at his office at Morraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, where he is listed as an athletic student success specialist.

Burnett’s campaign reports show McArthur has been paid more than $34,000 for what was reported as “accounting fees” and “consulting” since 2013.

On May 10, the state elections board emailed McArthur that the newly amended reports still lack information about the two missing CDs and also about another $50,000 CD, at American Charter Bank, that has been cashed out.

Burnett, who was first elected to the Chicago City Council in 1995, began putting money from political contributions into investment accounts in 1999, according to reports he filed with the elections board.

Those reports showed he put $375,000 into seven CDs, which, as investments, are required under Illinois law to be reported on his semi-annual campaign reports and to show the amount of interest they have earned. The amended reports also show the additional, previously unreported $25,000 CD.

If a campaign liquidates any investment, it’s required to report what was then done with that money. But, over a span of years, Burnett stopped reporting any information regarding five investments that originally amounted to $300,000, the Sun-Times previously reported.

After Burnett’s amended reports were filed Feb. 7, the campaign has still been unable to account for $165,000 he invested.

Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the state elections board, says the agency has no way to verify any of the updated information on Burnett’s campaign investments.

Dietrich says that what Burnett’s reports show is that, in some instances, “You’re telling us you deposited the money back into the campaign fund, and we see no such thing.”

But the elections board has no authority to check to make sure that what’s reported is accurate, he says.

“It’s all self-reporting,” Dietrich says. “We can’t go back and look at their bank records. We can’t subpoena the bank records.”

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