The Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a case aimed at preventing Illinois officials from using campaign funds to pay lawyers, court officials said.
The case began in November 2019 when Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) filed a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections against his disgraced predecessor, former Ald. Danny Solis.
Sigcho-Lopez’s complaint, which was dismissed by the Illinois State Council of Elections as well as lower courts, argues that it makes no sense to prohibit politicians from using the campaign contributors’ money for personal reasons – like clothes, hairstyles, and club memberships – but allow them to pay “legal fees unrelated to their campaigns for political office.”
“This practice is illegal and shameful, but it exists because it is not contested,” according to the complaint.
Illinois State Council of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.
In May 2019, Solis paid $ 220,000 to cover legal fees for Foley & Lardner LLP, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Solis, who did not stand for re-election to city council in 2019, reached a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in January 2019 and secretly registered Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) in a federal investigation that resulted in an indictment of 14 counts, including charges of racketeering, bribery and extortion. Burke pleaded not guilty.
Solis has been accused by federal agents of agreeing to sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey, and a constant stream of campaign contributions in exchange for city council shares, as the Chicago Sun-Times first reported.
Sigcho-Lopez, a member of the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, replaced Solis as alderman in 2019 and as a member of the 25th Ward Democratic Committee in March 2020.
“The only reason these people are under federal investigation is that they took advantage of their positions by putting themselves in corrupt and potentially criminal situations, and now they want to continue to profit by using the funds. of the campaign to fight their way out of justice and accountability, ”Sigcho-Lopez said in a statement.
Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke and Justice Mary Jane Theis have recanted the decision to hear the Sigcho-Lopez case.
Chief Justice Burke is married to Ald. Burke.
Between January 1 and June 30, Ald. Burke paid two law firms, Jenner & Block and Loeb & Loeb, approximately $ 315,000 from his Friends of Edward M. Burke campaign fund, according to records filed with the State Council of Elections of the Illinois.
A Supreme Court ruling could set a precedent for future legal challenges, said Adolfo Mondragon, the lawyer representing Sigcho-Lopez.
“Our state has tragically been one of the leaders in political corruption for the past 20+ years,” Mondragon said. “This appeal to the Supreme Court would finally put an end to this practice which has never been legitimate, but which has always been abused by the worst of the worst: politicians who have been indicted – and some of them convicted for – public corruption. “
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]