Kilbride takes $550K from Madigan despite vowing not to accept ‘one penny’ from speaker’s committees
The Democratic Party of Illinois campaign committee, chaired by House Speaker Mike Madigan, recently contributed to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride’s retention campaign. Kilbride had sworn he would take no Madigan money.
Mike Madigan may be facing a federal corruption probe and discipline from his peers, but so far his money has not been rejected by an Illinois Supreme Court justice who vowed to keep his distance from it.
Justice Thomas Kilbride’s retention campaign committee on Oct. 16 received $550,000 from the Madigan-controlled Democratic Party of Illinois, Illinois State Board of Elections records show. The campaign cash came two weeks after Kilbride vowed to reject any funding from scandal-embroiled Illinois House Speaker Madigan, saying, “We’re not going to accept one penny — and I say this respectfully — [from] Speaker Madigan or any of his entities.”
The Madigan money comes as Kilbride faces an active campaign opposing his retention, which just saw an influx of $2 million from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin. The Democratic Party stands to lose its majority on the Illinois Supreme Court if Kilbride loses his retention bid for the Third Judicial District, which stretches across the state from Will County in the east and includes Peoria as well as the Quad Cities in the west.
Kilbride is the only Illinois Supreme Court justice to receive funding from one of Madigan’s committees since 2005. He received nearly $1.48 million, more than half of his funding, from Madigan in 2010 when he last ran for retention.
Kilbride has ruled on multiple cases that would be of interest to Madigan since then.
Kilbride penned the majority opinion in Hooker v. Illinois State Board of Elections, which removed a 2016 referendum from the ballot that would have taken legislative redistricting out of Madigan’s hands and entrusted it to an independent redistricting commission. He has also consistently sided against pension reform and in favor of public sector union members.
Illinois judges are bound by rules of ethics, and there may be due process concerns when there is “significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge’s election campaign when the case was pending or imminent,” according to the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co.
Additionally, judicial candidate guidelines advise that “[i]f a party, a party’s lawyer, or the law firm of a party’s lawyer has made a direct or indirect contribution to the judge’s campaign in an amount that would raise a reasonable concern about the fairness or impartiality of the judge’s consideration of a case involving the party, the party’s lawyer, or the law firm of the party’s lawyer, the judge should consider whether recusal would be appropriate.”
These rules do not cover donors who are not tied to litigation, however. And if a justice recused himself or herself from any case that had an impact on the interests of the speaker of the House, it’s likely that justice would be absent from a high percentage of cases.
From Kilbride’s statements, it is clear the justice wants to publicly distance himself from Madigan. So far, he has not distanced himself from Madigan’s money, nor has Kilbride commented on whether he intends to return the $550,000.