Chicago Magazine, in partnership with the Better Government Association, has a great muckracking story about how politicians are spending money from the campaign funds. In any state but Illinois, it would be shocking. But we’ve seen worse here, and you almost have to be amused at the justifications the politicians offer for buying luxury items on their contributors’ dimes. Here are some of the highlights.
- Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios has spent $186,000 on restaurant meals since 2007, mostly at Mart Anthony -- “perhaps washing down the $32 steak Vesuvio with a $75 Napa cabernet.” Berrios spent an average of $188 every time he ate out, which may explain why needed gastric bypass surgery.
- House Speaker Michael Madigan has spent $912,782 on sports tickets, more than half on the Cubs, despite the fact that he represents a Southwest Side district. Madigan’s explanation: A spokesman says “he sees the tickets as a way to encourage people to be active in political campaigns” -- i.e., a way to reward contributors and precinct captains.
- Speaking of rewarding precinct captains, Ald. Richard Mell took four of his on a three-day trip to the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The year before, they went to Aruba. Mell also bought a brick storefront for $210,000, converted it a political office, and has paid himself $231,000 in rent out of his campaign funds.
- State Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights bought a $6,512 Segway so he could “meet all the voters I could.”
- Secretary of State Jesse White has spent $77,000 on cars. He has a matching pair of GMC Yukons, one for Chicago, one for Springfield. White also has a state car and access to a state plane.
- Although using campaign funds to buy a house was forbidden by a 1997 ethics law, state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan bought a $32,000 Springfield mobile home with his own money, but uses campaign funds to pay the $280 a month lot lease.
The lesson: if you can’t get by on $67,836 a year, run for office in Illinois -- and make sure to vote against any law that would curtail your lifestyle.