When Chicago and the Better Government Association confronted politicians with questions about seemingly lavish expenditures from their campaign funds, many responded, in effect, by saying: We’re not as piggish as it may seem. In fact, some political figures portrayed themselves as downright magnanimous.
Take Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, who used his campaign fund to buy tickets to professional sporting events and “Broadway in Chicago” performances. (Collectively, his campaign spent more than $60,000 on seats since 2007, state records show.) He insisted he’s not the one usually going to these events; rather, he donates them to charities for fundraisers, or gives them to deserving residents. “Out of 40 [White Sox] home games I had, I literally went to one of them,” he said.
Cook County Commissioner John Daley, who runs the 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, dropped more than $50,000 in campaign money on sports tickets over the same time frame. He likewise said, “We give . . . a good percentage of the tickets away.”
OK, but what about vehicles bought or leased through political campaign funds? Does Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar, whose campaign spent more than $45,000 over the past five years on cars, really need a donor-funded Jaguar?
“As a full-time mayor I’d be more than justified to drive a municipal vehicle,” Claar said. “Ninety-eight percent of the driving I do is village business.” But, “I don’t turn in a dime of expenses to the village for travel,” he said, so even though he’s driving a stylish ride—a used Jaguar—he noted he’s also saving taxpayers money.
Chicago Ald. Patrick O’Connor said basically the same thing when asked about his campaign-leased Lexus.
Since we’re on the subject of driving, what’s the deal with Chicago Ald. George Cardenas (12th) dropping more than $5,000 in campaign money on parking tickets?
“We’re trying to get better at it,” Cardenas said, adding he’s racked up parking violations when his downtown meetings lasted longer than expected and his parking meter expired.
A bit further north, Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is one of several political figures who have paid themselves rent out of their campaign funds. Tunney owns the building at 915 W. Belmont, which until earlier this year housed his political operation, and the campaign paid him $1,500 a month in rent, records show.
“It’s actually way under market rent,” Tunney said. “We did that consciously to make sure that we’re not enriching anybody.”
Chicago Ald. Ed Burke (14th) also collects rent from his campaign fund, but he didn’t return calls requesting comment.
Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson’s campaign spent nearly $65,000 on meals since 2007, but he downplayed the figure. “I think prior to that it was even more,” Larson said. “I don’t raise the funds I used to be able to. I get out to meet people. They’re for community events. I don’t spend money frivolously.”