Brandon Johnson

Johnson campaign used $30K in campaign funds on hair, makeup expenses

The Johnson campaign used the funds to provide hair and makeup services for the mayor, other aides

NBC Universal, Inc.

Questions have arisen over Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson using campaign funds to pay for hair and makeup expenses, both for himself and for others connected to his campaign

The Chicago Sun-Times first reported that Johnson’s campaign had spent more than $30,000 on such services over a 15-month span.  

Illinois election law does not specifically mention hair and makeup expenses as valid campaign expenditures, so depending on whom you ask -- there is disagreement whether the practice is legal.

Johnson’s campaign is not the first to use funds in this way, but questions arose after the funds were also used to provide services to others.      

“I would be hard-pressed to say grooming is part of your governmental function,” election lawyer Burt Odelson told NBC Chicago. “That’s not a function of government to look good.”

Michael Dorf, another election attorney, says that the law doesn’t explicitly prohibit use of campaign funds for grooming expenses, which would likely work in Johnson’s favor in an argument.

“I think the key is the law does not prohibit expenditures from grooming expenses,” he said. “It’s absolutely clear that how you look is as least as important as what you say in any political situation.”

When NBC Chicago’s Mary Ann Ahern spoke to the mayor in a one-on-one interview in Aug. 2023, his make-up artist applied makeup on him before the interview. That artist is paid through campaign donations, as is a hair salon in the Austin neighborhood, just three doors down from his former office as a Cook County board commissioner.

According to the Sun-Times, Johnson expensed more than $32,000 from Jan. 2023 through the end of March 2024. His make-up artist was paid $28,000, with the hair salon receiving approximately $4,000.

By contrast, campaign records show former Mayor Lori Lightfoot expensed $8,000 for hair and makeup to her campaign.

The Illinois State Board of Elections provided a written statement to NBC Chicago.

“If you’re making an appearance as mayor of Chicago, and you hire a make-up and hair artist for the event, that would most likely be a legitimate use,” spokesman Matt Dietrich said. “But if you’re using them for a strictly social event, there might be a stronger grounds for a complaint. You also can’t pay more than fair market value for goods and services.”

Odelson says that he would likely choose to be safe when it comes to expenses for hair and makeup.

“If I was to pick a side here, I would pick the side on the conservative side, following the letter of the law and not trying to stretch the law,” he said.

According to Bill Neidhardt, the mayor’s campaign spokesman, the funds were used for “the mayor and individuals associated with the campaign for public appearances, events, media segments, and other availabilities.”

Even as questions arise, Dorf says the mayor is likely in the clear of any sort of wrongdoing.

“It’s a political problem for him,” he said. “It’s a public relations problem. I don’t think it’s a violation of the Illinois election code.”

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