So your candidate lost the election, what happens to those leftover campaign donations?


More than just a staple of a post-Thanksgiving feast, leftovers in the form of political campaign funds are commonplace in Illinois weeks following Election Day.

The midterms saw hundreds of millions of dollars poured into political action committees for Illinois General Assembly candidates and those seeking statewide office. Exactly how much remains in the coffers will not be known until January when the next quarterly campaign finance reports are released, but millions are likely to stay in reserves.

While winning candidates may use their reserves in subsequent elections, losing candidates and those stepping down from public office also have options. Illinois campaign finance laws allow funds to stay open for as long as the individual wants — either to support other candidates, return to contributors, or donate it to charity, Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said.

Candidates and current legislators leaving the Illinois General Assembly like former gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Darren Bailey or state Reps. Sandy Hamilton and Tim Butler can therefore continue receiving funds despite not rejoining the legislature in January 2023.

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As of their latest campaign finance report, the trio had $766,982, $66,556, and $123,592 on-hand respectively.

Prior to 1998, exiting legislators and candidates essentially held carte blanche as to how they used their reserves including personal expenses like vehicles, college tuition, and club memberships. That changed during then-Gov. Jim Edgar’s tenure when the Illinois General Assembly made Public Act 102-0015 effective July 1, 1998 that candidates could not use remaining funds for personal use.

These changes were much needed, Edgar said during a recent interview.

"You couldn’t use if for yourself to take a vacation or buying a boat, or something — which you could before," the Republican governor said of the changes the bill provided. "Before, it was just viewed as income that you had that you paid taxes and did whatever you wanted with it."

Case Study: Illinois Senate District 48

The difference in how legislators decide to use their remaining funds can be seen locally dating back to the 2018 Illinois Senate District 48 race.

There Democrat Andy Manar won convincingly over Republican challenger Seth McMillan by more than 10,000 votes — also holding a significant fundraising advantage along the way.

The McMillan campaign based out of Taylorville, according to ISBE campaign finance reports, filed its last quarterly report in April 2019 with no contributions and one transfer of $396 to the Christian County Republican Central Committee.

Their first quarterly report from January 2019 saw him spend $19,965 primarily on advertising costs some of which were dated after the November 2018 election.

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Manar, now Deputy Governor in Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration, has kept his fund going after leaving the Senate in 2021. His campaign’s October quarterly report had more than $47,000 in expenditures with $210,753 in reserves primarily backing central Illinois Democrat organizations. LBR PAC was the largest recipient of the campaign in the prior quarter with a $17,000 transfer from Manar’s campaign.

Sen. Doris Turner, who replaced Manar before winning her first Senate election earlier this month, also received $21,000 in three separate contributions from the former senator last year.

Grandfathered: Campaign funds to pay legal taxes

Edgar, unlike any living former governor, still has his political campaign fund active which was now been in existence for more than 45 years. As of Oct. 17, his campaign fund had $214,177 in reserves.

Like Manar, he has used it to support candidates on his side of the political aisle including former Secretary of State candidate Dan Brady and Attorney General candidate Steve Kim.

Edgar, however, has more leeway with his remaining funds compared to Manar and any other political action committee created after July 1, 1998. As Dietrich explained, changes to campaign finance law did not apply to committees existing prior to June 30, 1998. Edgar’s committee was created on Jan. 1, 1976 and therefore grandfathered.

The former governor noted that he has used these funds since leaving the governorship when purchasing his first home. The reason, Edgar explained, was to cover fencing expenses around his yard.

"That’s the only time I’ve ever taken any money out of there that would be considered maybe personal," he said, noting also that he has also used his campaign fund to cover travel expenses to national political conventions and speaking engagements.

Edgar has also reported in recent years expenditures in ISBE quarterly reports towards membership dues with the Sangamo Club and state taxes filed with the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Legal fees

Recent reporting from The Chicago Sun-Times revealed that former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan also continues to use his political campaign despite facing federal corruption charges.

The Sun-Times found Madigan paid the Akerman law firm $302,000 in the past two years from his 13th Ward Democratic Organization campaign fund to respond to the subpoenas, which is continuing to receive contributions from labor unions and other supporters.

This committee was created in October 1974, meaning like Edgar’s committee, it is not subject to the limitations of the 1998 law. Other expenditures by the 13th Ward included $14,000 on Chicago White Sox tickets.

When asked whether more change may be needed to campaign finance, Edgar said the law he signed in 1998 "took care of the most glaring problems." Optically, he said, the prior standard could be seen as a bribe.

Madigan, who served as House Speaker during Edgar’s gubernatorial term between 1991 and 1999, and his use of campaign funds for legal fees did not draw a reaction one way or another from Edgar.

"There are times that people in government get accused of things that they are not guilty of and then they still have to spend a lot of money to defend themselves and I don’t think it’s fair that they have to pay that out of their own pocket," he said. "I don’t have a big problem with that now as it is interpreted."

Contact Patrick Keck: 312-549-9340,,

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November 28, 2022 at 06:38AM

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