Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who controls an astounding $12 million in campaign funds he barely spends, is hosting a Tuesday fundraiser to, according the invitation obtained by the Sun-Times, celebrate his “50 years of public service.”
But coming after the FBI raided his City Hall and ward offices on Thursday, it’s an open question whether people will attend Burke’s annual holiday reception, from 5 p.m to 7:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, to do their annual kissing of Burke’s ring, or if the scandal keeps them away.
Burke, the most politically stingy elected official in Illinois, given his resources to help other candidates and causes, has used his powerful City Hall Finance Committee chairmanship perch to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for stockpiling political cash.
Donors wanting to keep in Burke’s favor have thrown money at him, even when he ran unopposed. Yes, this year is different. Burke was fighting for political survival in the upcoming aldermanic election even before the feds moved in on him.
When I first looked at how Burke was hoarding campaign contributions in September 2014, he was sitting on $10 million using a bit of it – as he still does – to make donations to his pet charities and fund the ward operation.
Since my 2014 story, Burke’s stash has grown by $2 million.
Burke’s three streams of political money
Friends of Edward M. Burke
With a Sept. 30 balance of $9,539,736, this fund is the beneficiary of the Tuesday fundraiser.
Of that, $2,168,982 is cash-on-hand and $7,370,754 is in investment accounts; three at Credit Suisse, and a fourth at Northern Trust.
Since my 2014 story, the investments at the banks have increased in value by $1 million, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. State law does not require disclosing details about the investments.
In October and November, the “friends” fund has taken in another $331,100 in donations, according to disclosure reports.
Burke has an option under Illinois law of converting $2,452,463 — the balance as of June 30, 1998 — to personal use after paying taxes.
The Burnham Committee
This fund shows a Sept. 30 balance of $1,953,275.
The 14th Ward Regular Democratic Organization
This fund shows a Sept. 30 balance of $574,589. In October, the fund took in another $23,000.
Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said no subpoenas had been received for Burke-related funds.
Before the federal raid, a major political problem for Burke was the property tax work his law firm did for President Donald Trump’s Chicago tower. For the first time in decades, Burke needed to build a modern campaign.
Records show the “friends” fund paid $7,000 this summer to a consultant, Brendan O’Sullivan, who was the campaign manager for Christopher Kennedy’s Democratic primary bid for governor.
O’Sullivan and I talked on Friday. “I started helping him in June 2018 … helping put together the campaign team,” he said.
The $21,700 paid to pollster Anzalone Liszt in September was for an August poll used to test voters in the 14th Ward on the Trump factor. Turned out, it was “not as bad as we thought it would be,” O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan is now campaign manager for mayoral candidate Gery Chico, a Burke ally. Another consultant paid out of the “friends” fund is Micaela Vargas, who will manage the Burke campaign, O’Sullivan said. Vargas is a former chief of staff for Cook County Board Member Bridget Gainer; her MAV consulting company was paid $36,000 between July 1 and Sept. 30.
For the quarter ending on June 30, the Friends of Edward M. Burke fund paid $111,000 to the IRS; the payment was $29,000 for the quarter ending Oct. 30. It is possible the IRS debt was to cover interest or dividends from the investment funds. In the context of the FBI raid, any unexplained payment to the federal government from a campaign fund raises questions.
Calls to the The Haymarket Group, which receives thousands of dollars each year from Burke’s campaign funds to fundraise and handle other political chores for Burke, were not returned. O’Sullivan told me he was not aware of any IRS issues when he was consulting for Burke.
Burke’s major political money play this year: He used his campaign funds to channel $45,000 to the Mexican American Political Action Committee, which funneled money to Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios’ failed Democratic primary re-election bid. Burke rarely has used his funds to make political donations of more than $1,000.
Back in 2010, he loaned then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign fund $200,000 and donated more than $50,000. A year later, his daughter got a job with the Quinn administration.
Chico was the master of ceremonies at a June 28 breakfast for Burke’s best fundraisers, held at Maggiano’s on Grand Avenue.
Burke is determined, I am told, to not cancel the Tuesday fundraiser, where he risks embarrassment if the turnout is low.