A new report shows how 13th Ward Chicago Alderman Marty Quinn and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan diverted tens of thousands of dollars in public funds toward political purposes.
In the city of Chicago, the most politically powerful are the most tightly connected. As such, in the event that a political official’s misconduct sees the light of day, one can often trace the steps to more familiar, recurring political faces. Corruption, in the Windy City, travels in packs.
A report published Nov. 14 by Project Six, a government watchdog organization, reinforces this truism. The two-part report has uncovered tens of thousands of dollars illegally allocated by Alderman Marty Quinn, 13th Ward, in an abuse that was facilitated by the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The report details that Quinn purchased an item with taxpayer money that violates the Municipal Code of Chicago, and along with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, illegally used city property for political purposes. Madigan is the Democratic committeeman for the 13th Ward, a position he has held since 1969. The investigation, which includes an ancillary evidence packet, unearthed a voucher request submitted by Quinn, redacted emails and a series of handwritten notes passed between city officials working to skirt around the law for political leaders’ personal and political interests.
Expense account red flags
According to the report, a Quinn staffer submitted a voucher request totaling $24,992.50 on April 24, 2015. The request was for a 2015 Polaris brand Brutus HD PTO Deluxe – a multi-purpose utility vehicle – as well as a handful of “additional accessories, such as an attachable snowplow,” according to the report.
The voucher request was submitted to the Chicago Department of Finance, or DOF, the agency entrusted with approving expenses made with aldermanic expense accounts. According to the Municipal Code of Chicago, the report points out, these accounts are intended only for “ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the performance of an alderman’s official duties.”
With an annual cap of $97,000, aldermen are permitted to expense a miscellany of items laid out in Chicago’s Municipal Code across 23 categories. The code also enumerates items for which vouchers and refunds explicitly do not apply – a list that totals a mere eight items. “Purchase of a motor vehicle” is listed as number three.
Nevertheless, the voucher for Quinn’s motor vehicle was ultimately reimbursed.
An accompanying series of handwritten notes – some which have since been crossed out – show the purchase was initially rebuked by Deputy Comptroller Jason Yost, who wrote, “Prohibited by Municipal Code – do not pay.”
However, a subsequent note reads, “approved by Mayor’s Office & [DOF deputy director] E. Keane.” An additional note dated May 8, 2015 shows the Office of Budget and Management, or OBM, also approved the request, despite the explicit illegality of the purchase.
In an email chain obtained by Project Six, both DOF and OBM officials appear to go as far as acknowledging the criminality before deciding to dispense the payment to Quinn.
Taxpayer-funded political ads
Quinn hasn’t just refused to deny he violated code; a Chicago Sun-Times report shows him actively defending it. This sense of entitlement is too common among Chicago political leaders. And where Quinn picked up this cynical political approach is no mystery.
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In addition to sharing a website and two separate office spaces with Madigan, Quinn serves him as a paid political consultant, the investigation notes, citing financial interest statements filed with the Chicago Board of Ethics.
The two also appear to share a graffiti blaster, which is pictured on the colleagues’ shared website, taken at political events. The graffiti blaster appears to be innocuous enough as it appears to dodge any explicitly prohibited purchase category according to the city’s Municipal Code.
However, the purchase of a political prop with taxpayer funds falls in violation of campaign laws. One could suppose that the tool was purchased for Quinn and Madigan’s shared passion for vandalism eradication. But the city of Chicago has long provided this service to its residents – without the need for conscripting local aldermen. And that the graffiti blaster makes further appearances in campaign brochures and political literature – plastered in campaign signs – distributed by the officials points more strongly toward abuse of taxpayer funds.
The report makes a point of mentioning Madigan’s “control over millions in political funds across multiple political funds,” which could have been legally expended to purchase the prop, rather than using taxpayer dollars. Madigan has access to such funds as he is state party chairman, in addition to his role as speaker, making him the only state legislative leader in the country to also serve as a state party chair.
Regardless of whether the piece of machinery was purchased with the express intent of political signaling, that it was purchased on the taxpayer’s dime would relegate it to the fourth category of items prohibited by the municipal code: “Personal, political or campaign-related expenses.” Madigan and Quinn used city property as a political platform – in stark violation of Chicago’s prohibition of “city property or resources of the city in connection with any prohibited political activity.”
However, that isn’t where the infraction ends. The report revealed that one of the vouchers requesting graffiti blaster supplies had a receiving address directed to the attention of one Kevin Quinn, the brother of Marty Quinn. Kevin Quinn isn’t a city worker, the report underscores, but a state worker, also employed by Madigan’s office. If this delivery took place, it would have broken Chicago’s rule against state workers’ influence on city resources.
It’s also possible that the purchase violated the city’s collective bargaining rules. Streets and Sanitation employees are unionized workers. If Madigan and the Quinn brothers are offering city services to constituents, even as a political stunt, this trespasses against the city’s collective bargaining contract with the Streets and Sanitation Service, which ensures the union – except in the event of an emergency – competition-free work that includes graffiti removal.
Using taxpayers’ money for one’s personal or political gain isn’t just illegal – it’s demeaning. Sadly, the investigation’s findings are far from surprising.