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Senate Democratic leadership roundup

Thursday, Dec 5, 2019

* Yesterday in Politico

State Sens. Jacqueline Collins and Melinda Bush are endorsing Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford to follow Cullerton as Senate president when he retires next month.

“I’ve found her to be a master negotiator and accomplished legislator,” Collins told Playbook, pointing to Lightford’s dogged efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage. […]

“I’m not committed to anyone,” Sen. Julie Morrison said, adding other senators “are in the same place… We’re being really thoughtful.”

Sens. Cristina Castro, Laura Fine and Ram Villivalam are also waiting to see which candidates emerge for the Jan. 19 vote. […]

(O)ther senators want to know why Senate leadership isn’t backing Harmon.

Um, Lightford is the Senate Majority Leader, so why wouldn’t members of leadership be backing her? Subscribers knew about Sen. Bush’s endorsement on Monday. Bush was floating her name as a Senate President candidate, so that was a significant get.

Also, that endorsement from Sen. Collins is interesting considering that Sen. Harmon was touting his petition-gathering work for Collins, who was having some trouble and didn’t file until the last day possible

(O)n Saturday morning, [Democratic Party of Oak Park] volunteers were urged to go to the far South Side of Chicago to gather signatures for the nominating petitions for state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) to put her on the ballot for the March primary. DPOP volunteers helping Collins get on the ballot could influence Collins to vote for Harmon as Senate president in January.

DPOP volunteers, guided by Harmon, have been sent to help out many Democrats across the state over the years.

“My colleagues recognize my track record and experience in helping others,” Harmon said. “That’s what a good Senate president would do, help 40 Democrats get re-elected. And as we go into redistricting and the 2022 election when all the senators will be on the ballot, that’s a critical skill.”

* Politico today

RICKEY HENDON SPOUTS OFF: The former state senator says divisions within the Black Caucus could keep Sen. Kimberly Lightford from becoming president of the state Senate, in a Facebook Live post after leaving a fundraiser for Lightford’s new Leadership PAC.

Hendon said South Side black senators are not joining West Side black senators to support Lightford, who would be the first African American woman to hold the position, and specifically calls out Sens. Elgie Sims Jr. and Napoleon Harris III. Hendon also questions why Sen. Don Harmon just loaned himself $100,000. “Because he wants to give senators money to vote for him,” claims Hendon, a senator from 1992 to 2011.

A filing with the state Board of Elections shows Harmon gave $100,001 to his campaign fund Wednesday — and that more than $675,000 was moved into that account (by other donations and consolidating money from other accounts). Harmon’s big donation broke the $100,000 cap and can now he can operate as a self-funder. During the last cycle, he gave come $800,000 to support fellow lawmakers.

Harmon’s fundraising moves came the same day Lightford kicked off her Leadership PAC fundraiser. No dollar totals yet, but a source close to Lightford’s camp says the event raised six figures.

Only about half the money Harmon raised came from others.

* Jim Dey

That’s relevant to the ongoing deliberations, because Lightford’s conduct has been publicly questioned on three separate occasions since 2016 — two government reports involving improper hiring and an Illinois Times investigation into misuse of campaign funds.

Although unmentioned — both in the news media and apparently among Lightford’s colleagues — the record is clear.

Earlier this year, the state Executive Inspector General issued a 35-page report demonstrating how Eric McKennie was improperly hired by the Chicago Transit Authority because of Lightford’s political influence. The report identified McKennie as an individual who “holds himself out as being married” to Lightford and claimed to live with her.

The report said McKennie was hired as an $81,000-a-year diversity consultant “because of his wife’s position as a state legislator.”

However, the investigation turned up no evidence that Sen. Lightford was in any way involved in the hiring. The guy just kept using her name. The Lightford camp pointed that out to me and issued this response…

The findings of the IG report speak for themselves. And to quote a wise woman, “When they go low we go high.”

* The Illinois Times story is relevant

Twice since 2013, Lightford has used campaign funds to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in the Cayman Islands, racking up hotel bills of $3,931 during her two stays. In 2012, she reported spending $553 for lodging at the Desert Longevity Institute in Palm Desert, California, a holistic health clinic that offers such services as hyperbaric oxygen treatments and colon cleansings but does not rent rooms.

Lightford said that the reported payment to the health clinic was in error – after Illinois Times brought it to her attention, she said that she corrected it. She makes no apologies for the Cayman Islands.

Loretto Hospital in Chicago was in danger of losing its insurance, which could have forced closure, explains Lightford, who is on the hospital board. After exhausting other possibilities, she said that the hospital set up a captive insurance company, essentially a form of self insurance, in the Cayman Islands.

“We cannot convene in the United Sates because it’s a captive in the Cayman Islands,” Lightford says. “Our meeting every fall is in the Caymans so that our auditors can come in, and we have our yearly meeting there. That’s (the Ritz-Carlton) the location that we stay when we’re there.”

Members will want to know that the money she raises as the caucus leader will be spent wisely.

* Speaking of money

In an unusual transaction, retiring Illinois Senate President John Cullerton obtained a personal loan from a politically connected Chicago bank by using money from his campaign fund as collateral, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The deal allowed Cullerton to sidestep campaign finance disclosure requirements that would have been triggered if he had borrowed or withdrawn the money directly from his campaign fund.

While Cullerton answered some questions from the Sun-Times about the deal, he declined to make available records of the transaction. The maneuver does not appear to violate Illinois ethics laws, based on the information provided by Cullerton.

In response to questions, Cullerton confirmed by email he took out a personal line of credit for $75,000 on Oct. 20, 2014, from Belmont Bank & Trust Co., where Cullerton’s friend and business partner, former state Sen. James DeLeo, is a member of the board of directors.

Six months earlier, Cullerton had deposited $100,000 in campaign money held by his Citizens for John Cullerton fund into a certificate of deposit with the bank.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

20 Comments
  1. - Oak Parker - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:28 am:

    Belmont Bank & Trust, operators of the ATM outisde of Tavern on Rush


  2. - Ok - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:33 am:

    Looking at those A1s, looks like Harmon called in every favor to get the largest checks he could.

    But it was almost counterproductive. You don’t show fundraising prowess by donating half the money yourself and the other half from like 10 other people that you work with in the bond finance industry.

    It actually demonstrated how small his world and reach probably is.


  3. - Ok - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:35 am:

    I am confused as to whether this guy was actually married to Lightford or lived with her, also. Her answer doesn’t quite address that.


  4. - Capitol Text - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:37 am:

    Team Harmon has its oppo game cranked up to 11


  5. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:37 am:

    All I’m saying is… if Rauner bought 2 minority standing caucuses for $50 mil, ($16.5 for the Senate, $33.5 for the House?) I dunno if $100k plus a dollar is gonna work.

    (This is snark, thank you)


  6. - Lawman - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:45 am:

    I guess setting up a captive insurance company in Illinois is out of the question as it is not very favorable with its’ laws.

    The hospital doesn’t cover travel expenses for directors to go to its’ annual meeting. Guess not….better to use campaign funds. /s


  7. - Just Me 2 - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:46 am:

    Speaking of spending caucus money wisely, I can’t help but wonder what all the DPI donors thought about their money (which should go to support Democratic candidates) was actually spent on Madigan’s legal fees and settlement costs. Just the price of doing business with the Speaker?


  8. - JoeMaddon - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 11:57 am:

    **She makes no apologies for the Cayman Islands.

    Loretto Hospital in Chicago was in danger of losing its insurance, which could have forced closure, explains Lightford, who is on the hospital board. After exhausting other possibilities, she said that the hospital set up a captive insurance company, essentially a form of self insurance, in the Cayman Islands.**

    What does her board position at Loretto have to do with her campaign fund?


  9. - Chicagonk - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 12:18 pm:

    Lightfords explanation makes no sense. From someone in the insurance industry, there is no regulation requiring Cayman captives to have their board meetings in the Caymans.


  10. - Oak Parker - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 12:22 pm:

    The emergency room at Loretto hospital is actually named for Senator Lightford.


  11. - 4 percent - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 12:34 pm:

    Does Senator Lightford receive pay for serving on the hospital board? Is there any conflict with the recent MCO and other hospital assessment legislation?


  12. - Austinman - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 12:41 pm:

    Hendon needs to be quiet he is part of the reason why Sen. Clayborne didnt win the Senate Prez seat last time


  13. - Casual Observer - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 1:14 pm:

    If Lightford used campaign funds to pay for a “meeting” in the Cayman Islands for a hospital/insurance company (or for the spa visit), would she have to report that money as income? If so, did she?


  14. - Chicago Cynic - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 1:15 pm:

    “Team Harmon has its oppo game cranked up to 11″

    I get why some people would think that, but journalists know how to use Google. All of the stuff that’s come out is in the public record including the Illinois Times piece Rich excerpted above.


  15. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 1:26 pm:

    Shouldn’t Lorretto Hospital pay for the trip to the Cayman Islands and not Sen. Lightford’s campaign account? And setting up a captive insurance company in the Cayman Islands should like something out of The Laundromat.


  16. - Just Another Anon - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 2:02 pm:

    Why are campaign committees allowed to invest monies at all? What’s the public policy benefit?


  17. - Fav human - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 2:09 pm:

    “colon cleansing treatment”

    The temptation to snark…


  18. - confused - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 2:58 pm:

    Campaign dollars cannot be used for personal expenses or business expenses. Both of these seem like violations of the law.


  19. - Anonanonsir - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 3:44 pm:

    Mike Flannery recently had Lightford and Harmon on his weekly show. They both came across pretty well, for what that’s worth.
    The progressive “fair maps” issue didn’t come up. Lightford says she supports a term limit for legislative leaders. Presumably Harmon would agree.


  20. - anon - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 5:07 pm:

    I think the south siders know that the west side will again be short of AA voters in the next map- i.e see how far south the Danny Davis distict goes under today’s map-they are just looking after their own interests–like everyone else


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