Illinois Supreme Court to Hear Case Trying to End Use of Campaign Money on Defense Lawyers

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The state’s highest court plans to rule on the thorny question of whether Illinois politicians can dip into their campaign funds to pay for their criminal defense or other legal issues, a move that could directly affect the beleaguered husband of Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke.

The court’s chief justice recanted from the decision to take the case – and hear it once it went to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Her husband, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), has already spent nearly $ 2 million in campaign contributions for legal fees – including $ 88,718.85 to the cabinet representing a co-accused – since federal agents first put out paper butchered the windows of the City Hall Alderman’s office and raided his Southwest Side neighborhood headquarters.

But the state’s highest court ruled on Wednesday to hear Ald’s appeal. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) who could put an end to the “obscene amounts” of campaign cash from elected officials taken under the federal microscope used for the benefit of their criminal defense.

This appeal is linked to a complaint filed in 2019 by Sigcho-Lopez regarding allegations by his predecessor, former Ald. Danny Solis, misused $ 220,000 from the 25th Ward’s campaign fund for defense attorneys while under federal investigation.

Sigcho-Lopez lost that initial battle, but asked the state’s highest court in May to take up the case.

The alderman of the 25th district said that he and his lawyer, Adolfo Mondragon, had not yet been informed of the date on which the court would take up the case, but that he was “happy” that he had. decided to hear the appeal.

Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) attends a city council meeting in 2019.
Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times File

“We believe it is essential, especially in these difficult times in our city, that these practices be addressed,” said Sigcho-Lopez.

“These corrupt practices of the past must have consequences, and we cannot allow the system to have these loopholes that have allowed many officials to use campaign donations to [their] legal defense cases against corruption allegations. We think we have a good case and we look forward to our case being heard by the Supreme Court. “

Justices Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis had no part in the decision to hear Sigcho-Lopez’s appeal, according to a court opinion. The two judges will not participate in the case once it goes to court, a spokesperson said.

Illinois Supreme Court Judge Anne Burke in 2014.

Illinois Supreme Court Judge Anne Burke in 2014.
Sun-Times File Photo

The spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions as to whether the two judges had given reasons for their challenges.

While the call focuses on Solis, others like Ald. Ed Burke and former Illinois House chairman Mike Madigan also dug into their well-stocked campaign coffers and used “obscene sums of campaign money to defend either against formal criminal charges or against close scrutiny by the FBI, “argues Sigcho-Lopez’s appeal.

“These politicians flouted the spirit and letter of the Campaign Disclosure Act, which prohibits a candidate from using campaign funds to pay for many personal expenses, including haircuts, new costumes, cars, houses, club memberships and, as in this case, personal expenses. debts ”, according to the file.

Ald.  Ed Burke (14th), left, attends a city council meeting in April;  Ald.  Danny Solis (25th), center, talks on the phone at Town Hall in 2015;  Former House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, speaks with reporters in February.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th), left, attends a city council meeting in April; Ald. Danny Solis (25th), center, talks on the phone at Town Hall in 2015; Former House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, speaks with reporters in February.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file; Brian Jackson / For the Chicago Sun-Times; Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file.

Illinois State Council of Elections records show Burke has spent $ 1.91 million since late 2018, including $ 88,718.85 on the company representing political aide Peter Andrews.

Over two years ago Alderman Andrews and developer Charles Cui were hit with a successful racketeering indictment that accuses Ed Burke of using his seat on city council to steer business towards his cabinet private tax lawyers.

Although he has not been charged with a felony and denies any wrongdoing, Madigan has been implicated in a bribery scheme in which ComEd is accused of sending $ 1.3 million to Madigan associates for doing little. or no work.

The former State House chairman has spent just over $ 6.8 million since early 2018, a total that includes lawsuits from former political rivals and other legal issues.

Along with Burke, city councilors Carrie Austin (34th) and Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) were also indicted on federal charges.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Through the coffers of the 34th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, Austin paid Clark Hill PLC $ 45,000 in early July 2019 – just under a month after his neighborhood office was raided – for attorney fees, according to the records of the state council of elections.

Ald.  Carrie Austin (34th) at a 2019 Chicago City Council meeting.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) at a 2019 Chicago City Council meeting.
Sun-Times file

An additional $ 40,000 for attorney fees was paid to the company through the Alderman’s Citizens for Carrie M. Austin campaign fund on the same day, according to records.

A lawyer from this firm is part of a team representing the alderman for a long time.

Quarterly documents from the Friends of Patrick D. Thompson for Alderman campaign committee do not show funds earmarked for the Alderman’s legal defense.

Sigcho-Lopez said he hoped the court would rule in his favor, a decision that could “set a precedent” for the use of campaign funds in the future.

The alderman also said he was working on campaign finance reform to “begin to change the legacy we have in the city of Chicago, unfortunately, with cases of corruption continuing to occur.”


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