Pritzker, Preckwinkle campaigns gave over $100K to Leon Finney’s struggling media company, records show
Most of the money came from Gov. J.B. Prtizker’s campaign, which sets records for spending.
The campaigns of two of Chicago’s most powerful politicos paid Rev. Leon Finney Jr.’s struggling media nonprofit more than $100,000 last election cycle to help bring out voters to the polls despite the company never holding a business license, records show.
Most of the money came from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaign, which paid Urban Broadcast Media $93,540 in five installments between March and October of last year, according to campaign finance records.
The JB for Governor campaign fund recorded those payments as “media buys” in their financial report to the Illinois State Board of Elections, but deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks acknowledged the money actually paid for field canvassing.
“The work was mistakenly listed as media buys instead of strategic field consulting on the committee’s campaign finance report and is being amended,” Fulks wrote in a statement to the Sun-Times.
Meanwhile, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s mayoral campaign paid Urban Broadcast Media $10,185 for “promotional items” in March 2018, records show.
Delmarie Cobb, a political consultant working with Preckwinkle’s political committee, said the payment was for “a rally that [Finney] coordinated for [Preckwinkle] at the Harold Washington Cultural Center” in Bronzeville that month.
Fulks and Cobb said both campaigns were unaware that Urban Broadcast Media was operating without a business license.
Neither Finney nor his spokesman Jerry Thomas would provide information about the payments — including how many people were hired to knock on doors for Pritzker — but Thomas said Finney “built a reputation as someone who can mobilize people.”
“Anybody of stature, of influence — any corporation, any politicians, anyone who’s trying to engage the African American community — at some point is gonna interface with Dr. Finney or one of the organizations that he’s headed. It’s gonna happen,” Thomas said.
Finney founded Urban Broadcast Media in 2013 as a nonprofit multimedia production center for emerging black journalists and producers. The company streams 24-hour programming on its website.
By 2015, Finney had secured around $700,000 in investments from PNC Bank, ComEd, and Community Trust Credit Union for the media company’s production equipment, according to the South Side Weekly.
It’s unclear how many people tuned into Urban Broadcast Media’s programming (neither Finney nor Thomas would provide listener data) but an analysis of the station’s YouTube and social media accounts suggests a modest following.
The money from Preckwinkle’s and Pritzker’s campaigns was likely a boon for the small media outlet. But despite the influx of cash, Urban Broadcast Media appears not to have been properly paying at least one of its employees. Records show $11,500 was diverted from a public housing development known as Anchor House previously under Finney’s control to pay the media company’s general manager from December 2018 until the employee resigned in March.
Finney’s church received $50,000 from Anchor House while Finney himself collected $4,000, records show. A property manager at Anchor House got $14,677.03, records show.
Also in December, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection cited Urban Broadcast Media for operating without the required business license and “misrepresenting material fact by operating as a corporation in good standing when in fact the corporation . . . is not in good standing with the Illinois Secretary of State,” according to records obtained by the Sun-Times.
The city fined Urban Broadcast Media $6,080 for these violations, records show.
The two final payments from Pritzker’s campaign to Urban Broadcast Media — totaling $23,465 — were recorded two days after another Finney-led nonprofit, the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, filed for bankruptcy last October.
In March, a federal bankruptcy judge appointed U.S. trustee Gina Krol to take over Woodlawn after accusing Finney of engaging in fraud, self-dealing and mismanagement while leading the nonprofit.
Under Krol’s control, Woodlawn sued to evict Urban Broadcast Media from its headquarters at 4108 S. King Drive in May. Woodlawn holds the deed for the property and is auctioning it off on Monday along with 14 other properties.
When the Cook County sheriff’s office executed the eviction in August, the media company moved into a rear building behind its original headquarters attached to Finney’s landmark church, the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, 4100 S. King Drive.
But in September, Woodlawn filed another eviction suit against Urban Broadcast Media, the Metropolitan Apostolic Church and Finney to have them vacate that rear building.
The suit contends Woodlawn owns the lot under which the building stands. But Finney’s lawyer has moved to bring the eviction case to trial, which is set to start in mid-November.