Column: Suburban politicians rake in campaign cash despite criminal charges, investigations

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Southland state Sen. Emil Jones III is raking in campaign cash while he awaits trial on federal charges of accepting bribes and lying to authorities about his role in a red-light camera corruption scandal.

Jones, a Chicago Democrat, has resisted calls from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others to resign the state Senate seat he has held since 2009. He is running unopposed in the Nov. 8 election and has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

Generous donors seem eager to stuff more cash into the state lawmaker’s pockets despite widespread publicity about the criminal charges. Since Oct. 1, Jones has reported $20,500 in new contributions. Investment banker and venture capitalist Todd Schwartz is linked to $36,000 in recent donations to Jones.

Schwartz is CEO, chairman and founder of Chicago-based OppFi, also known as Opportunity Financial, which donated $12,000 to Jones Oct. 15, according to reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Candidates are required to report donations of $1,000 or more as soon as they receive them.

For the three-month period ending Sept. 30, three other entities linked to Schwartz donated an additional $24,000 to Jones. Jones accepted donations in August from trusts that listed the same Wacker Drive address and suite number as Schwartz Capital Group, of which Schwartz is a partner.

The address and suite number for the entities that were reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections matched information about Schwartz that was reported on forms filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, records showed. Efforts to reach Schwartz for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Jones reported total revenues of $62,450 and expenses of $12,047 to end the quarter with a balance of $187,338 Sept. 30.

Another Jones who is state lawmaker and subject of a federal investigation also reported an active third quarter for fundraising. State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, who is mayor of Calumet City, hauled in fistfuls of cash despite federal authorities’ scrutiny of tax issues involving his three campaign funds.

One of the funds, Citizens for Jones, reported an expense of $2,147 paid Aug. 25 to the Illinois State Board of Elections for “civil penalties.”

Another fund, Jones for State Representative, reported revenues of $111,261 plus in-kind donations of $29,950 for the quarter. Individual contributions included $10,000 from Lincolnwood-based Villa Financial Services, $5,000 from Lansing-based Arbor Care Piekarski and Sons tree service and $3,500 from political powerhouse attorney Michael J. Kasper.

Other state lawmakers transferred money from their campaign funds into the state legislator campaign fund for Jones. State Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, transferred $5,000 to Jones Aug. 25 and state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, transferred $8,000 to Jones July 8, records showed.

The Calumet City Public Library’s website lists Mayfield as the library’s director. The library has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request I submitted Oct. 5 seeking information about the number of the taxpayer-funded salaries for Mayfield and others on the payroll.

Calumet City Mayor and state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, right, listens as U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, speaks Oct. 18, 2021, at City Hall in Calumet City.

Calumet City Mayor and state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, right, listens as U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, speaks Oct. 18, 2021, at City Hall in Calumet City. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

A year ago, Jones bristled when I confronted him with questions about why he closed the public library amid concerns he was replacing qualified, experienced staff with political cronies.

State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, continued to accept contributions from gaming interests despite his role in crafting legislation that regulates casinos, horse racing, video gaming and other entertainment.

Rita accepted money from Gold Rush Amusements in Hoffman Estates, J & J Ventures Gaming in Effingham and Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero. He also accepted $5,000 from the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association. Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois covered the $20,210 cost of an Aug. 25 golf outing fundraiser at Canyata Golf Club in Marshall with an in-kind donation.

Rita’s expenses for the quarter included a $5,000 transfer to state Rep. Deborah Conroy of Villa Park. Conroy received death threats and was forced to shut her legislative district office in February.

Demonstrators described by ABC7 Chicago as “members of a far-right group” created an uproar. They targeted Conroy for sponsoring legislation that sought to create “concentration camps for Illinois residents who refuse to take COVID-19 vaccines,” according to the DuPage Policy Journal, a Dan Proft political publication designed to resemble a newspaper.

Claims about Conroy’s bill creating concentration camps were false. The bill, which stalled amid the public outcry, would have directed the state health department to gather and share data with other public health agencies.

On the Republican side of the aisle, state Rep. Tim Ozinga, R-Mokena, spread his wealth around the state amid speculation he is angling for a House leadership position within the GOP.

Ozinga tapped into his huge war chest and transferred $464,308 in funds to other campaign committees during the third quarter. He gave $37,500 to the House Republican Majority, $80,000 to the Illinois Republican Party and $200,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Tim Ozinga

Tim Ozinga (Tim Ozinga)

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Ozinga also transferred $49,000 to the Senate Republican Victory Fund and gave $16,000 to the Kankakee County Republican Central Committee. He gave $26,000 to the campaign fund for James Richmond, a Mokena Village Board member seeking a seat representing District 4 on the Will County Board.

Ozinga gave $159,000 to a Mokena-based entity called Big Tent Coalition LLC, and repaid a $100,100 loan to his wife, Amanda. He ended the quarter with a balance of $824,339.

That was enough to surrender Ozinga’s claim to the quarterly title of Southland Politician With the Biggest War Chest to state Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, who finished the quarter with $870,043 cash on hand.

DeLuca raised $77,250 and spent $78,989 during the quarter. Since the beginning of October, he has reported an additional $29,000 in donations, including $20,000 from Democrats for the Illinois House.

Since Oct. 1, DeLuca also accepted in-kind donations valued at more than $25,000 for mailing from the Democratic Party of Illinois and more than $6,800 worth of food expenses that were covered by John T. O’Connell and Timothy S. O’Connell for a recent event at Edgewood Valley Country Club near Willow Springs.

Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.

tslowik@tribpub.com

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October 18, 2022 at 05:08PM

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