86% of Illinois state lawmakers received money from major government unions since 2002
House Speaker Mike Madigan received more than $1.1 million since 2002 from the state’s five major public unions.
In the Illinois General Assembly, Democrats receive most of the political donations from big government unions. But no matter who is on the receiving end of union patronage, big money translates into powerful influence.
The Illinois Policy Institute recently analyzed contributions from the five major government unions to state campaigns from 2002 to 2014. Of the donations made to the 176 current members of the General Assembly, 88 percent went to Democrats.
During the same period, 24 lawmakers – 14 percent of the politicians in the General Assembly – received no donations from the five major unions. This group included just one Democrat, state Sen. Scott Bennett of Champaign, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by State Treasurer Mike Frerichs in January 2015. He has yet to run for the office.
Atop the union money heap among legislators was House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Democrat who has received more than $1.1 million since 2002 from the state’s five major public unions. He has little need for such money because he holds a safe Chicago seat and has faced no serious challenges in elections, usually winning about 80 percent of the vote.
In 2014, he ran unopposed. Despite that, Madigan received $157,800 from chapters of the Service Employees International Union and $32,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union, among other government labor organizations.
This kind of money builds on Madigan’s control of the General Assembly; last September, he donated $750,000 of his campaign money to the Democratic Party of Illinois, which he heads. The party then gave money to Democrats around Illinois, extending Madigan’s reach.
No. 2 on the list of union-money recipients was Democratic state Rep. Mike Smiddy, who won his second term representing a Quad Cities-area district in November. He has received more than $650,000 from the five major unions during his two campaigns.
In his last run, Smiddy’s biggest union donor was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, which gave him $165,700. Smiddy, a former state-prison employee, is a member of AFSCME, the biggest union for state employees.
After Smiddy’s razor-thin win in November, AFSCME Council 31 sent out a news release, which stated that it “played a vital role in his victory.”
Smiddy was quoted in the release as saying that the union “played a very large role, both through financial help and through volunteers.”
The union stated that Smiddy had a 100 percent voting record on issues important to AFSCME members. For instance, Smiddy agreed with the union’s opposition to proposals to curtail pensions.
In an interview, Smiddy’s 2012 opponent, incumbent Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, told Sauk Valley media that the public unions supporting Smiddy “were clearly a special interest.”
“When you think about it, it’s a conflicted interest. They are clearly trying to secure a representative to do their bidding,” Morthland said.
Some leaders propose barring unions from donating to those who have control over their contracts – in other words, elected officials. This would eliminate the ability of public unions to control outcomes through big donations, a welcome reform in a state dominated by these special interests for decades.