Madigan has spent nearly $170,000 in campaign funds on baseball tickets in 2017
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan reportedly uses his large quantity of Cubs and White Sox tickets as gifts for his political volunteers, but his history with professional sports teams in Chicago isn’t so generous.
The Major League Baseball season is still young, but that hasn’t stopped one powerful Illinois politician from already spending thousands of dollars on tickets to games.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has spent nearly $170,000 of campaign funds on tickets for the Chicago Cubs and White Sox in the first quarter this year, with $122,869 on Cubs tickets and $46,245 on White Sox tickets, according to new campaign disclosure reports reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown says the speaker doesn’t use the tickets himself but uses them as “thank you” gifts to volunteers and supporters. Not only is that a large quantity of tickets – the Cubs tickets were the biggest itemized expenditure Madigan reported for this first quarter – but the large payments to Chicago’s baseball teams are a far departure from his attitude historically toward the city’s sports teams.
While he may be dishing out thousands to the Cubs now, Madigan stood in the way when the Cubs were trying to acquire lights at Wrigley Field in the 1980s, eventually becoming the last Major League team to install lights at their home ballpark. Madigan teamed up with then-Chicago Alderman Ed Vrdolyak in fierce opposition to allowing the Tribune Company, who then owned the Cubs, from getting its lights.
The crux of the opposition was Vrdolyak’s desire for more favorable coverage from the Tribune. Both Madigan and Vrdolyak were Democratic Party bosses and Madigan made sure to help lead the fight in Springfield. Vrdolyak was successful, getting a 42-2 vote in Chicago City Council to ban lights at Wrigley in 1983. The Tribune Company then proceeded to try to get the General Assembly in Springfield to override Chicago’s ordinance, which is where Madigan stepped in and blocked the company again.
The battle with the city and state for lights almost proved costly for the north side ball club, as the Cubs came just one win away from the 1984 World Series – in which they would have had to sacrifice home field advantage to comply with a national television schedule that needed night games.
In a blistering 1985 editorial, the Tribune wrote:
“Mr. Madigan made sure the Cubs weren`t successful in getting the state legislature to override the city ordinance preventing the Cubs from installing lights and playing some night baseball in Wrigley Field during the regular season.
“Mr. Madigan and his law firm represent a lot of people who end up doing business with state government. Largely because of the vacuum of leadership in Springfield, Mr. Madigan has obtained a position of extraordinary power in the legislature. You come by him or you don’t get by. And if your cause happens to conflict with that of someone closer to him that you are, forget it …
“To handle Mr. Madigan, you have to make some kind of deal. Take him some incense, myrrh, maybe some silk from the East and kneel when you go before his throne. Then maybe, just maybe, you`ll get lucky and he’ll throw you some scraps from his legislative table. That`s what everyone else has to do.”
But things changed when Vrdolyak, who formerly led the Cook County Democratic Party, became a Republican in 1987 and led criticism against then-Mayor Harold Washington’s $79.9 million dollar property tax hike. Madigan, who runs a law firm specializing in property-tax appeals in Cook County, stopped assisting Vrdolyak in his lights crusade. Political motivation gone, Madigan didn’t speak up once the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance allowing lights in 1988.
The lights fiasco shows how far Madigan’s iron grip over the state extends – from the state’s legislative rules and political mapmaking, all the way to professional sports. But other sports owners have been able to avoid the stranglehold by playing ball with the longtime House speaker. Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has made large donations to powerful politicians in the city and the state over the years, including Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and both former Gov. Pat Quinn and Gov. Bruce Rauner. When Reinsdorf threatened to move the White Sox to Florida in the ‘80s unless he received taxpayer funding for a new stadium, then-Gov. Jim Thompson balked and, with Madigan and the General Assembly, created a politically stacked board to make sure the White Sox remained in Chicago.
The General Assembly created the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, or ISFA in 1987 to provide taxpayer funding for the construction and renovation of stadiums for professional sports teams. The ISFA owns Guaranteed Rate Field, formerly U.S. Cellular Field, and is the party benefitting from the new money in the Guaranteed Rate naming deal. The ISFA also oversaw the renovations to Soldier Field in the early 2000s, and is still handing out taxpayer money to the Chicago Bears for that deal to the tune of $36 million just this year.
Former ISFA Chairwoman Perri Irmer, who served from 2004-2011, claimed in a 2013 lawsuit the ISFA exists as “nothing more than a cash cow puppet for Reinsdorf,” not to serve its intended purpose of economic development through sports stadiums. But with its potential influence over professional sports teams in the state – which are large, wealthy private businesses – there isn’t much likelihood for reform or elimination of the IFSA.
Madigan – and other state and city politicians – have made clear they view sports organizations in Illinois as tools for political ends. If Madigan’s volunteers are attending Cubs games under the lights at Wrigley or White Sox games at the taxpayer funded Guaranteed Rate Field as “thank-you’s” for their political work, the historical evidence is right in front of them.