March 17, 2021


Someone wrote or sang that money can’t buy happiness. What rock did he crawl out from under? A politician certainly did not say it.

Money buys public office and that means power. Politicians view money in two ways: As a mechanism to get into power, stay in power or to accumulate more power by running for a more prestigious office, and to deter and/or intimidate opponents from trying to take it away. That’s called “buying happiness.”

Politics is a social endeavor. It used to be called “pressing the flesh,” as in meeting, greeting, hugging, and even kissing babies. The public used to want to see their elected officials, and their supporters and donors wanted their candidate to know they existed. COVID-19 has upended the whole fund-raising system. No more group gatherings or rallies. No more boring community meetings. No more $100-and-up fund-raisers where a donor/campaign worker can eat and drink with abandon while socializing with his/her peers and the candidate.

The chart delineates fund-raising totals of some state, county and Northwest Side politicians as reflected by their D-2s filed quarterly with the state Board of Elections. It covers the period from April 1, shortly after COVID-19 really surfaced, to the end of 2020, or 3 quarters. Here are some highlights:

GOVERNOR: J.B. Pritzker knows how to raise money. Pritzker just whips out his checkbook. As detailed in the chart, the governor gave himself $3,575,571 last year, and blew through about $3.1 million of that. He had $404,933 on-hand as of 12/31.  Where did that money go? Primarily for advertising for his failed “Fair Tax” amendment, plus a chunk for consultants and for paid staffers for various Downstate Democratic county organizations, as well as suburban township and Chicago ward organizations. Pritzker spent $171 million of his $3 billion fortune to win in 2018. That’s about 0.057 percent of his net worth. For non-billionaires, Pritzker’s purchase of the governorship is akin to buying a month-long timeshare in Cancun.

Pritzker had a formidable rival in ex-speaker Mike Madigan. But now he’s out as speaker and state party chairman, and Pritzker is the not-so-pretty face of the Democratic Party and Mr. Moneybags.

The 2022 Republican field will need a ton of money to be competitive, and moguls like Ken Griffin and Dick Uihlein can match Pritzker if they so choose. Potential candidates include construction magnate Gary Rabine, lawyer Richard Porter, congressman Adam Kinzinger (who voted for Trump’s most recent impeachment), and legislators Darren Bailey and Paul Schimpf.

MADIGAN, INCORPORATED: The speaker is history, but his money is not. “Friends of Mike Madigan” (see chart) had $13,472,855 on-hand, and his 13th Ward Democratic Organization $2,558,752. Daughter Lisa Madigan, the former attorney general, has $2,078,459.

The Democratic Party of Illinois (DPI) money, $1,914,204, goes to the new chairman, Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-2). And the Democratic Majority Fund, now at $890,605, goes to new Speaker Chris Welch.

But gone are the days when Madigan could phone his union and special interest pals and tell them where to park their money, which was in the account of some compliant state representative, who would then ship it to some other Democrat (so as to hide Madigan’s fingerprints).  That’s where 2020 state rep candidate Michelle Dabro got most of her $1,692,994 in her losing race against Brad Stephens (R) - from parked money plus another $1 million in mailers paid for by DPI. Stephens won with 54 percent.  To protect his majority Madigan would recruit and fund his choices who were indebted to him.

Those days are over. No more “General” Marty Quinn and his 13th Ward army to invade a district. The state reps are on their own.  Stephens’ war chest is down to $2,373, but he is the incumbent and mayor of Rosemont, so he can raise $1 million for 2022.  Stephens got $100,000 from the Rosemont Voters League, $20,000 from the FOP and $50,000 from the Stephens’ PAC. Darbro won’t be back.

Area Democratic representative look secure: John D’Amico (D-15) had $350,419 on-hand, Marty Moylan (D-55) $158,577 and Lindsey LaPointe (D-19) $105,493, with senators Rob Martwick (D-10) and Laura Murphy (D-28), respectively, at $363,439 and $291,695. Martwick had narrow wins in both the 2020 primary and election. He can probably expect 2022 rematches with cop Danny O’Toole (D) and cop Anthony Beckman (R), who is currently running for Norwood Park Township supervisor. If he wins, he would have a good power base

SECRETARY OF STATE: As detailed in a previous article (see my Web site), this gig is a great steppingstone to governor or senator. It used to be a great fund-raising source until George Ryan went to jail. Alexi Giannoulias, who was elected state treasurer in 2006 but lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race against Mark Kirk, is back. Incumbent Jesse White (D) is retiring, and indications are that he is supporting Giannoulias, not his longtime protégé Alderman Walter Burnett (27th).

Giannoulias’s  D-2s indicate he had $740,937 on-hand as of Dec. 31, and incurred 2020 debt of $2,282,150. Say what? Not to worry. Turns out the money came from his mother and the estate of his late father, who founded the now-defunct Broadway Bank. This guy just blew through $1.5 million in 9 months without airing a single TV commercial. Hey, its only family money, not taxpayer dollars.

He faces competition from four candidates: Chicago city clerk Anna Valencia, who has $236,082 on-hand, Burnett, has $451,928 on-hand, state Senator Michael Hastings, from Tinley Park, and lieutenant governor Juliana Stratton has a whopping $37,616, having raised $1,017 in 2020. Who gives money to a LG? Where’s the quid pro quo?  

Outlook: As long as the family spigot continues to flow, Giannoulias is the frontrunner. He has already locked-in a lot of party support. Valencia and Burnett can run without giving up their current gigs. Stratton and Hastings better keep what they’ve got. Giannoulias will spend $6 to 8 million-plus to be a glorified clerk. But when J.B. is gone, Alexi will likely be the next governor.

COOK COUNTY:  Don’t count out Toni Preckwinkle yet. Even though the county board president had $1,988 money on-hand and raised $125,675 in 2020, she can raise cash quickly. Even if her soda tax fiasco and a dismal 2019 mayoral run make her semi-damaged goods politically.
Fellow commissioner Bridget Gainer (D) has $576,529 on-hand. Former commissioner Richard Boykin of Oak Park is running.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx (D) had a tough 2018 primary, but she won’t be on the ballot again until 2024. She raised $1,114,074 and had $135, 137.

ALDERMEN: The Northwest Side is not the Gold Coast, where Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) has $874,790on-hand.  In the 38th, 39th, 41st and 45th wards having about $75,000 on-hand is the norm.  Nick Sposato (38th) had $76,352, Jim Gardiner (45th) had $72,220, Samantha Nugent (39th) had  $75,225.  Alderman Gilbert Villegas, Lightfoot’s former council floor leader, had a paltry $8,992 on-hand.

And the 41st Ward is totally off-the-wall. Alderman Anthony Napolitano has $34,972 on-hand, but that’s only because he was a conduit for money to flow to Darbro. The Engineers’ PAC gave him $57,000, the Firefighters’ $5,000 and the Carpenters’ $20,000. Napolitano spent that as follows: $45,639 on Darbro mailings, $10,000 on Darbro robo-calls, and $6,000 on Darbro ads, all urging a vote against Stephens.

Napolitano will likely get a payback in 2023.