Quinn and the DCEO spent $27M on ‘Transformers’ movies, ‘Empire,’ a Funyons commercial and more
Gov. Bruce Rauner ordered Cinespace Chicago Film Studios to pay back their most recent $10 million grant, but further action is necessary to stamp out cronyism in Illinois.
UPDATE: Cinespace Chicago Film Studios returned a $10 million grant, plus interest, to the state of Illinois on Tuesday — a day after Gov. Bruce Rauner demanded repayment in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that found the money wasn’t being used.
The Chicago Sun-Times broke news on March 21 that former Gov. Pat Quinn gave Cinespace Chicago Film Studios $10 million to buy land that wasn’t for sale, capping off a lucrative streak of five state grants for Cinespace worth $27.3 million during his governorship. The final $10 million was handed out after Quinn had lost the 2014 gubernatorial election, but before Gov. Bruce Rauner had taken office, via the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, or DCEO.
Rauner ordered Cinespace to return that grant on March 23. While this is certainly good news for Illinois taxpayers, the studio has already blown through millions of dollars in state funding while highlighting the danger of an agency like the DCEO.
Initially backed with $5 million from Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now program, the privately owned studio has produced feature films (“Transformers 4,” “Divergent,” “Batman v. Superman”), television series (“Empire,” “Sirens,” “Chicago Fire”) and commercials (Chevy, American Family Insurance, Funyons) in a 1.4 million square foot complex on Chicago’s West Side since 2011.
The most recent grant was handed out by the DCEO on astonishingly limited information, according to Sun-Times reports. Cinespace provided no appraisals, pending contracts or evidence of negotiations to justify the projected purchase price of the properties.
The studio had already proved itself unworthy of state funding, as it failed to comply with reporting requirements on a previous million-dollar handout from the DCEO. While receiving letters notifying them of their lack of compliance, Cinespace raked in three more gifts from the DCEO worth $16 million.
What could have caused the state to look past these red flags? One need only look to press conferences Quinn held at the space throughout his time as governor. In 2013, for instance, Quinn visited the set of “Chicago Fire” and thanked the Teamsters union and Teamsters Joint Council 25 President John T. Coli for their “commitment to the industry.”
“Last year, we had more Illinois Teamsters working in this industry than ever before, and thanks to the governor’s ongoing support and the tremendous work done by Cinespace and the Illinois Film Office, we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon,” said Coli.
The Teamsters union has given more money to Quinn than any other politician in recent years: nearly half a million dollars since 2010.
The combination of union cash and the DCEO, a crony arm of state government that has doled out millions in illegal tax credits and served as a Quinn campaign tool, spelled disaster for taxpayers from the start.
Rescinding the lame-duck Cinespace grant is the right thing to do. But Rauner can prove to Illinois taxpayers he is serious about curbing cronyism by moving to make politically favored winners a thing of the past, and eliminating state funding for the DCEO altogether.
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