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Cullerton’s campaign finances are a mess

Monday, Nov 18, 2019

* You should read Mark Maxwell’s entire story, but here’s a small excerpt to get you started

On the political side of his operation, the four separate campaign funds [Senate President John Cullerton] controlled sit in varying degrees of debt and disarray. Several members of the party complained to Cullerton about what they perceived as a “mismanagement of funds.”

Records filed at the State Board of Elections show the Senate Democratic Victory Fund took on $630,000 in debt in the final weeks of the 2018 election cycle. The risk paid off. Voters delivered Cullerton unprecedented political power with a supermajority of historic proportion. […]

However, despite strong financial backing, boosted by an extra $2.5 million from billionaire Governor J.B. Pritzker, the Victory Fund burned through so much money, it took most of 2019 for Cullerton’s team of political fundraisers to fill that hole.

In addition to taking on more than half a million dollars in debt, Cullerton’s campaign accounts lost tens of thousands of dollars in risky investments, paid out high fees to brokers, navigated through software glitches, and submitted campaign finance reports that Cullerton now acknowledges were littered with discrepancies and inaccuracies that, on the surface, appeared to some Democratic senators to look more like sleight of hand than transparent disclosure.

Again, go read the rest.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - The 647 - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 9:45 am:

    With financial management that bad, no wonder Cullerton had to step down.

  2. - The Captain - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:04 am:

    It’s horrible that this all lands in Magen Ryan’s lap but man, how lucky are they that they hired her instead of someone with less experience?

  3. - Rod - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:05 am:

    Mark Brown raised additional good reasons for Senator Cullerton to retire in his Sun Times article.

  4. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:05 am:

    Shocked to find financial incompetence in Springfield but usually it is with taxpayer dollars.

    No wonder they can’t balance a budget

  5. - Patterns - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:06 am:

    The head of the Illinois Senate couldn’t manage money? What an odd and unexpected turn of events.

    Software glitches? Sounds like a mystery novel subplot.

  6. - Tequila Mockingbird - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    Hey what ever happened to you get what you pay for?

  7. - Amalia - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:10 am:

    Wow. just wow.

  8. - Sue - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:14 am:

    This is actually a plus. An Illinois Pol retiring without a campaign fund to pillage is something to be applauded

  9. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:17 am:

    I don’t have the password to the account?? Well never mind then.

    Well since the bank is so conveniently located maybe you could just drop in and ask to see a personal banker?

  10. - Moe Berg - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:19 am:

    Breathtaking. Kudos to Maxwell. Has a downstate TV reporter ever punched so far above their weight (not just on this story, but the guy has been breaking news and digging into issues for a while now)?

  11. - Responsa - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:42 am:

    == “..behind the scenes, his caucus was devolving into a tailspin and his campaign operation was already in tatters.”

    I wonder how many of last weeks “gushers” had much more than an inkling of this situation.

  12. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:46 am:

    Responsa, that sentence is tremendously overstated. He almost certainly would’ve been reelected in 2021.

  13. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:53 am:


    If you’re not checking out Mark Maxwell‘s twitter, you’re already behind a whole bunch of folks.

    To the post,

    With an ounce of deflection towards what “this” is with Cullerton’s monies here, starting in 2013 we all saw huge, by Illinois standards, checks being written, deposited, and used, and so terribly quick, it was this “let’s get the cash, use it, we’ll figure out how it needs to fit in to reporting after” kinda feel. Again, these were 7-figure checks, at times, or six-figures meeting a deadline here, a deposit there (ads).

    Zero, none, no excuses. It’s why in campaigns the treasurer usually can have the biggest impact on timing and raising. It’s not that things are wholly careless, it’s the back end reconciliation that leaves the shaking of heads, not only to the crazy that happened, but the aftermath of reporting the monies of digging such holes and deficits… wow.

    Thus is intriguing, crazy, and it’s truly “follow the money” to how the politics, the results of those politics, and the financial fallout of the reporting and balances give that map of what happened too.

  14. - Public Citizen - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 10:54 am:

    Cullerton’s time in office has seen the state’s finances go into a trail spin while other states raced ahead of Illinois economically. Plus the ethical problems in his caucus. Now this. Good riddance.

  15. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:09 am:


    “Without an ounce of deflection…”

  16. - Seats - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:24 am:

    Is there a feeling amongst the party that JB will help out the Senate Democratic Victory Fund which may have caused them to be a bit more wreckless with their spending?

  17. - Kauaijim - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:27 am:

    Madigan Electric I’m assuming could help pay off done if the debt?

  18. - Tom H - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:32 am:

    Kudos to Maxwell for developing sources among the Senate Dems. His follow up story on Patricia Van Pelt’s ethical issues displayed how well his sources are placed.

    However, I agree with Rich that Maxwell “tailspin” comment is tremendously overstated. Shows Maxwell’s source has been really pushing anti-Cullerton memes.

  19. - A guy - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:39 am:

    He’s been there long enough to be grandfathered in on converting some campaign funds to personal income, going back to when the law was passed. I suspect he’ll have some lunch money when he officially leaves left over from early 90s surplus.

  20. - Langhorne - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    Xlnt reporting. If MMax can come up w this, imagine what a roomful of feds can come up with. Lots of juicy tidbits, starting w a mutual gag order.

  21. - Anon312 - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:44 am:

    For the record, exactly how many Senate Dems need to be raided, charged, or indicted by the feds before it’s officially a “tailspin?” Just curious.

  22. - Flat Bed Ford - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 11:46 am:

    Welp. That explains why Cullerton has done nothing to clean up the mess within his caucus. Glass house rule can be a

  23. - AnotherAnon - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    Well, the state of Illinois finances have been handled the same way.

  24. - JoeMaddon - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 12:12 pm:

    **Is there a feeling amongst the party that JB will help out the Senate Democratic Victory Fund which may have caused them to be a bit more wreckless with their spending?**

    JB offered Cullerton $1 million after the election. He also gave the HDEM organization $1M.

    But Cullerton turned down the $1M from JB.

  25. - Tom H - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 12:38 pm:


    Maybe I misread Maxwell’s point, but I think when he talks about a tailspin “behind the scenes,” he’s referring to Cullerton’s hold on his caucus’s support, not the publicly reported corruption investigation.

  26. - Squeegee - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 12:43 pm:

    Look at the campaign funds of some of the newly-elected Alderman we have here in Chicago. At least one is in excess of 100k. I won’t name names, but it’s pretty telling, particularly when one is one’s own treasurer.

  27. - Anon312 - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 1:15 pm:

    Tom H

    Looks to me like a reference to intro the corruption scandal, since that was mentioned in the very next paragraphs.

    But you’d be right to say Cullerton had support in the caucus. No one was going to dethrone him.

  28. - Thomas Paine - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 2:24 pm:

    This story does not makes everyone look bad, probably less so Liz than everyone else. That’s really an extraordinary amount she raised, although you can sense the lack of professionalism.

    It’s always President Cullerton, not “John,” especially talking to the press. President, Speaker, Governor, those titles are immutable.

  29. - Anon708 - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 2:27 pm:

    Cullerton trusts people around him. And Liz Nichelson took advantage of it. Too bad Maxwell didn’t really make that point to the extent that it needed to be made.

  30. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 3:01 pm:

    So much for the Captain goes down with the ship.

    It’s man overboard and everyone fend for themselves.

    Perhaps Senator Cullerton’s reluctance to remove Senator Sandoval as Chairman of Transportation makes more sense now.

  31. - Irish - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 4:50 pm:

    To Anon708….bingo. Liz Nicholson pays herself over $72k in “bonus” money? Not a good example of a trusted team member. Yes, it appears the finances are a mess but just….wow.

  32. - Campaign Finance Guy - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 4:57 pm:

    A good article, but there are a number of people reading too much in to the reported debt of the Senate Democratic Victory Fund.
    While the committee does indeed have $655k in obligations, they have almost twice that in cash on hand.
    The article makes a good argument for mismanagement, but it does not (and should not) hinge on half a million moving from one Democratic committee to another during an election.

  33. - Anon - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 8:15 pm:

    Everyone saw the blue wave of 2018 coming and the smart ones saved their bullets for things to come. When trump is gone the suburban GOP will rise again. And what Leader wants to be beholden to any Governor for that matter. Senate dems may want to invest in better pollsters or less greedy media consultants.

  34. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Nov 18, 19 @ 8:21 pm:

    === When trump is gone the suburban GOP will rise again.===

    As constituted, the demographics of the suburbs for the Raunerites are not their friends.

    The regionalism of this Raunerite leadership and it’s embracing of it also needs to change, post Trump, maybe in 5 years. Because Trump might not win Illinois, or do at all well, that doesn’t mean Trump can’t win.

    For a post-Rauner GOP to exist, the anger, hatred, regionalism, and uber-conservative purity needs to be quashed too.

    With respect.

  35. - Hmmmmmmm - Tuesday, Nov 19, 19 @ 1:58 pm:

    Hmmm….first of all, Liz Nicholson was there from the start w/Cullerton. He asked her to come over in 2009 from state side. She gave up a much bigger salary to join him. Gave up SERS pension payments. She was the architect of the Fund and increased every fundraising network in Illinois - especially labor. Let’s keep in mind SHE raised it. And cullerton & the 6 political directors who came in and out during her tenure? They SPENT IT. And pretty wildly in 2018. the one who kept everything afloat and raised gobs of money.

    It’s pretty clear from the D2s that everyone received bonuses - from field staff on up. She took care of EVERYONE. Nicholson’s bonus benchmark document is real. And the chart in Maxwell’s piece is real. She wouldn’t have taken the job without a bonus arrangement. Look at all the blank spaces in bonuses. Hmmm, if the money was owed to her and not a lot of people would say she didn’t earn it…. She’s owed it.

    This feels like a loyal person being kinda scapegoated here — never mind it doesn’t feel like that it is that.

    Where and what was the political director doing? Afterall, he spends the money she raises. And liquidations of investments were a big fat surprise. The money was WASTED on un-winnable races. And LOTS of consultants. Paid lots of money the money SHE was tasked with raising for over a decade.

    Seems there’s a bus running over Nicholson here. For everything she managed and did under Cullerton for all those years? Come on people…she was owed a lot more than past due bonuses EARNED per an Benchmark arrangement. Which she surpassed every cycle. And to all the staffers she made damn sure were taken care of? Shame on you.

    Tell the truth. And Cullerton is clearly throwing her to the wolves to avoid his own careless reflection in the mirror.

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