The Illinois Democratic Party has been deluging potential voters in the Nov. 3 general election with campaign mailers taking aim at Republican state Rep. Bradley Stephens for taking donations from one of the new bogeymen of Illinois politics: the red-light camera industry.
“Brad Stephens is sitting on campaign cash from red light camera contractors,” declares one of the mailers, which shows a photo illustration of a smiling Stephens sitting atop a traffic signal.
Indeed, records show Stephens’ campaign funds have accepted $25,000 from RedSpeed Illinois LLC, which operates red-light cameras in Rosemont. Stephens is also the mayor of the tiny but politically powerful community and trying to hold on to his legislative seat representing part of the Northwest Side and northwest suburbs.
But state records also reveal that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — who runs the Illinois Democratic Party and has been bankrolling the campaign of Stephens’ Democratic opponent Michelle Darbro — has accepted generous campaign checks from red-light camera companies and people affiliated with them for many years.
That includes RedSpeed, which made eight donations totaling $13,000 to the Friends of Michael J. Madigan political committee between 2009 and 2019, and four donations totaling $5,500 since 2010 to the state Democratic Party, records show. RedSpeed has not been accused of any wrongdoing and did not return phone calls.
Al Ronan, a lobbyist for RedSpeed and a number of other clients, has also donated to and helped raise money for Madigan’s campaigns, records show.
Madigan’s campaign funds have also accepted donations from officials tied to RedSpeed’s competitor, SafeSpeed LLC, which has been swept up in an ongoing federal corruption investigation.
Omar Maani was one of four main partners of SafeSpeed until he was booted from the Chicago company. He’s since been charged with participating in a bribery scheme to expand the firm’s red-light camera operations in the suburbs.
Maani — who donated $500 to the Friends of Michael J. Madigan campaign fund in late 2017 — is now believed to be cooperating with federal authorities.
In 2018, the same Madigan political account accepted a $1,500 contribution from Nikki Zollar, who is co-CEO of SafeSpeed and once credited Maani in a promotional video with coming up with the idea to get into the red-light business.
Zollar hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing and has blamed any misconduct on Maani, working as a rogue employee. SafeSpeed officials declined to comment for this story, as did Madigan.
Another Chicago company run by Zollar and involving other SafeSpeed executives, Triad Consulting Services Inc., has donated to the Illinois Democratic Party, including $10,000 in 2017 and $10,000 in 2016, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Triad and SafeSpeed have each contributed to a campaign account for Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez, a political ally of Madigan who’s close with former Madigan aide Mike Noonan.
Chicago Heights contracts with SafeSpeed to operate red-light cameras, and Noonan has been one of the company’s sales consultants who’s collected commissions from the arrangement, sources say.
Noonan’s main job is as a lobbyist. His business partner, Victor Reyes, was SafeSpeed’s lobbyist until he was cut loose by Zollar after the federal investigation came to light last fall.
That lobbying business, the Roosevelt Group, and Reyes’ law firm, Reyes Kurson Ltd., together donated more than $100,000 to political committees run by Madigan in recent years, though those companies have had numerous clients beyond SafeSpeed, records show.
The Roosevelt Group also has been a lobbyist for Cicero, whose town attorney Michael Del Galdo was listed early on as an officer at SafeSpeed, though Del Galdo has said that was done accidentally. Del Galdo once employed Maani at his firm, is friends with Madigan’s son and has raised campaign money for Madigan, according to sources and records.
Another red-light camera company, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., donated a total of $1,800 in 2010 and 2012 to Madigan’s 13th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.
Redflex was later embroiled in a different corruption case in which former City Hall official John Bills — once a 13th Ward precinct captain for Madigan — was convicted in 2016 of taking bribes to steer municipal contracts to the company.
Michael Kasper, treasurer of the Illinois Democratic Party, was also once a lobbyist for Redflex.
Darbro said she was unfamiliar with Madigan’s ties to the industry but noted the campaign messaging on Stephens was intended to point out that RedSpeed is a vendor with Rosemont, whose municipal government he controls. “It seems like you’re selling contracts,” she said.
Stephens said in response: “The only concern in this campaign should be the million dollars plus that Michelle Darbro has accepted from the corrupt Mike Madigan. If Darbro wins, she will be another of Mike Madigan’s ‘vending machines’ that spits out whatever vote he wants after he put money in them.”