It’s about the time of year when your mailbox may start to fill up with glossy brochures, pitching you not on a product — but on a candidate.
Most of the mailers make lots of promises — to protect jobs, fight for the economy and the environment — but also to take a tough stance on corruption; to “demand Springfield politicians and lobbyists are held accountable.”
Zero in on the return address: “Paid for by the Democratic Party of Illinois.”
It’s not uncommon, and it’s certainly not illegal, but Republicans say it’s hypocritical that Democratic candidates for the Illinois House are making promises to “clean up Springfield” when their campaigns are dependent on funding from the Democratic Party of Illinois, which is run by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan is identified in court filings as the “Public Official A” that Commonwealth Edison engendered itself to via bribery. Madigan has denied any wrongdoing.
Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, said the “filthy” money financing campaigns like that of her 47th District opponent is “in fact the fruit of poisonous corruption.”
“You can’t have a corrupt leadership at the top and expect all of the downstream institution to serve the taxpayers,” she said. “And Speaker Mike Madigan sits at the top of it all. But if these candidates can’t manage to say no more Mike Madigan, make it irrevocable, put it in writing, they cannot be trusted to do what’s best for Illinois.”
Democrat Jennifer Zordani of Clarendon Hills is also running for the 47th District seat; her campaign did not return a call seeking a response on Monday, nor did several other Democratic candidates WTTW News reached out to.
But Madigan did, through Democratic Party of Illinois spokeswoman Eileen Boyce.
“The Democratic Party and its leaders have fought to provide the people of our state and our country with access to healthcare, living wages, civil rights, affordable housing and clean air and water – all priorities that President Trump and former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner have worked to destroy,” she said in a statement. “Illinois Democrats will not be distracted by noise from people who were silent when Rauner tried to destroy our state and are now working to re-elect Donald Trump.”
Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, is in a battle for reelection for the 97th District against challenger Henry Benton, a Democrat also from Plainfield.
Batinick said a vote for a Democrat running for the House is akin a vote for another term of Madigan as speaker.
“All these candidates that say they’re going to fight corruption have actually made an agreement that they’re going to vote for him for speaker. We need to fight corruption, fight Mike Madigan, return the tainted funds,” Batinick said during a Zoom press conference Monday.
Political scientist and campaign finance expert Kent Redfield said it’s not that explicit a quid pro quo, but campaign contributions do engender loyalty, and that has helped to keep Madigan in charge of both the House and the Democratic Party of Illinois.
“Campaign contributions create relationships and they create understandings. People have an allegiance to the speaker and they understand that the speaker controls the process,” Redfield said. “The speaker is interested in someone voting for the House rules … and he wants the person to vote for him as speaker. But the speaker remains speaker by keeping his members happy, getting them reelected.”
Redfield said Republican efforts to tie their Democratic opponents to Madigan may be effective, especially with voters in suburban districts that could easily flip party control.
But Madigan is only part of the equation that could impact who wins or loses close races such as those in the 47th and 97th suburban districts.
“Is it effective? Sure. If you are in a suburban race then that can be an issue that you can run against a Democrat that this person will not be independent, they will take orders from the speaker,” Redfield said. “But Donald Trump is going to be on a ballot in the suburbs and all of that’s going to have an impact on turnout. Are you going to get more people to turn out against Donald Trump? You know, is that going to energize turnout? Or are you going to energize turnout against Mike Madigan?”
Only one Democrat in a targeted race has made a point to publicly distance herself from Madigan.
Rep. Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn, who is running to keep her seat from former Republican state Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard, called on Madigan late last month to step down.
“Speaker Madigan has not been charged with any crime, and he — like all of us — is entitled to the presumption of innocence and due process,” she said in a statement. “But the corruption and unethical behavior that have been revealed by this investigation make it impossible for Rep. Madigan to continue in his leadership roles. I hope he will do the honorable thing and step down.”
Asked about it at an unrelated event in Springfield on Monday, billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he has and will continue to help support Democratic candidates for the state legislature.
But as for putting money into campaign committees controlled by Madigan?
“That’s not something I intend to do,” he said.
Pritkzer has said the public deserves more answers from Madigan about the ComEd scheme and that Madigan should resign “if” it’s true he was involved, but Pritkzer has said the details laid out in a deferred prosecution agreement between ComEd and the U.S. attorney’s office are too vague for him to demand Madigan’s immediate resignation.
Democrats hold a supermajority in the Illinois House, and Madigan’s fundraising prowess is equally lopsided, meaning that while his name may be a drain on certain candidates, some may calculate that the actual dollars and cents he’s able to funnel into their campaigns makes it worth coordinating with him.
The various committees under Madigan’s control have $21.4 million available, based on Monday’s figures from Reform for Illinois’ Sunshine Database, while House Republican Leader Jim Durkin’s two campaign committees and the Illinois Republican Party collectively have $2.9 million.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky