Illinois' Democratic Leaders Spent $420K on Sports Tickets Last Year

Illinois law allows campaign expenditures for tickets to games

Want tickets to a Cubs game? Check with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

From April 1, 2018, through March 31, 2019, Friends of Michael J. Madigan - the speaker's political committee - made five purchases of Cubs tickets totaling $184,392, according to state campaign finance records.

During the same period, records show Madigan’s political campaign spent over $118,700 combined for White Sox tickets and Bulls tickets.

That puts his grand total spent on sports tickets, according to expenditures filed with the Illinois Board of Elections, at $303,125.

That’s not peanuts, said former state Sen. Susan Garrett, now the chair and co-founder of the Center for Illinois Politics.

"It’s excessive. It’s over the top," said Garrett, who spent 14 years in the Illinois legislature.

Senate President John Cullerton also used his campaign piggy bank to buy sports tickets, according to state records.

From April 1, 2018, through March 31, 2019, Cullerton’s campaign spent $66,311 for Cubs tickets, $41,580 for seats at Bulls games and $9,324 for Sox tickets.

Together, Cullerton and Madigan filed expenditures for sports tickets totaling $420,340 in that 12-month period.

"How can anybody justify spending huge amounts, hundreds of thousands of dollars on sports tickets? How can that happen?" Garrett asked in an interview.

Here’s how: Because Illinois law allows it.

"The law spells out 11 different things that you can’t do," said Jay Young, executive director of nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause Illinois.

"You can’t use the money to violate federal law, you can’t use the money to pay for a health club membership or to pay for your mortgage," among other things, Young said.

A spokesperson for Madigan said the tickets are used for supporters and volunteers, and that if the speaker - or his family - uses them, they pay for them.

A Cullerton political aide added that most tickets are given to charitable groups and used less for political purposes.

But Garrett said it’s impossible to know who’s using the tickets, from friends to political allies to lobbyists.

"It’s perfectly legal but I would also say it’s borderline, it's right on the fringe,” she said. “If you look at other states, and we have looked, we don’t see any other states that allow for this type of practice.”

"It’s not how our government should work but it is in fact how our government works,” Young added.

But don’t expect the Illinois legislature to make any changes. House GOP leader Jim Durkin - who spent absolutely nothing on sports tickets in the same period - opposes tightening the rules.

"I’m not going to judge how other people use those. I don’t personally feel that this is something that needs to be visited by the legislature,” Durkin said.

Garrett said it’s not that she is against an occasional ticket purchased with political funds. It’s the scope of the spending that concerns her.

“If a committee wants to purchase a ticket here or there or buy a block of tickets for something very special, that’s one thing, but we are talking about egregious amounts of money being spent on sports tickets."

The previous year's ticket purchases bring Madigan and Cullerton's grand total since Jan. 2016 to more than $1.4 million, state records show.

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