Madigan reports $100,000 more from union with members opposed to pension reform

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House Speaker Michael Madigan reported another $100,000 in contributions from SEIU Thursday following last week’s collapse of a pension-reform deliberations that would have impacted a few thousand of the union’s public-sector employees.

Friends of Michael J. Madigan, the speaker’s personal political fund, reported receiving a $50,000 contribution from the SEIU Healthcare Illinois committee and another $50,000 donation from the SEIU Illinois Council fund.

A top union source told the Sun-Times Thursday that money actually was given to Madigan in late July, well before last Friday’s special legislative session when the speaker presided over his chamber’s failure to pass anything that would help cure Illinois’ $83 billion pension crisis. Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn blamed Republicans for inaction on pensions.

Earlier this week, the state Republican Party condemned the union for engaging in a “quid pro quo” with the speaker when the Madigan-run Democratic Majority reported receiving $97,000 in SEIU donations last Friday, the same day as the special session on pensions.

SEIU has 2,450 members employed by Secretary of State Jesse White’s office and another 525 members working for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, mostly as toll collectors. All of them are eligible for state pensions.

“Recent attacks on our political donations grossly distort the facts and impugn the integrity of the hard-working, tax-paying, low-wage workers who make small contributions in large numbers and ensure themselves a voice in the legislative discourse,” the union said in a prepared statement.

A changed reporting requirement that was part of a 2009 campaign-finance law that Madigan helped pass and Quinn signed changed the definition of when campaign committees have to report getting campaign checks like those from SEIU.

Instead of it being when the donation actually changes hand, lawmakers changed state law so that reporting requirements kick in only after a political fund like Madigan’s actually deposits a check in the bank.

That makes it difficult if not impossible to know truly when a politician’s campaign committee receives a contribution in check form or whether such a contribution coincides with a vote, meeting or other official action. It also means a political committee could sit on a contribution check for months without having to disclose it.

“It would help for the General Assembly to bring some clarification to the definition of ‘receipt’ because the definition that’s there now leaves the system open to some gamesmanship,” said David Morrison, deputy director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a political watchdog that expressed concerns in 2009 about the provision in the law.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the nearly month-long lag time between receiving the most recent SEIU checks and reporting them on the State Board of Elections website was the result of taking time to properly vet the donations.

“I think every campaign has a review process to make sure that any contribution that comes in meets all the requirements of all the different laws, limits on contributions from contractors and all that kind of stuff. That takes a period of time,” Brown said.

Brown also defended the 2009 campaign-finance law and said there is no reason to change the reporting requirement when it comes to disclosing when political committees receive checks.

“That was there to protect smaller funds that don’t have full-time staff or have the review so it’s not a trip wire because they’re not in a campaign office or not around the mailbox every day to retrieve things,” he said. “It’s expressly designed to avoid creating some phony situations.”

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