Union control: 9 of 10 Illinois lawmakers have received money from unions

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith

Jon Josko

Data Scientist

Jon Josko
July 6, 2023

Union control: 9 of 10 Illinois lawmakers have received money from unions

Current lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly have received $60.2 million in contributions from unions since 2010. Most of that cash went to Democrats.

Unions have contributed $60.2 million to current Illinois lawmakers’ political committees, according to records with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

That cash has gone to 162 of the Illinois General Assembly’s 177 members – more than 9 out of 10. Almost all those funds went to Democrats.

So what can be expected from a $60.2 million investment?

Government unions in Illinois have tremendous power, more than in any other state.

The Illinois Constitution, amended in 2022, allows government unions to demand virtually anything in negotiations and provides a permanent right to go on strike to get those demands met. Lawmakers can never restrict the right to strike, what subjects can be negotiated into a contract or which government employees may unionize. Those powers, plus the campaign cash, give government unions a vast advantage when they negotiate their contracts.

Government unions in Illinois also have the power to override state and local laws they don’t like, simply by negotiating contrary provisions in their collective bargaining agreements.

Union cash buys access so they can lobby lawmakers about their chosen policies and political agendas. For example, the Chicago Teachers Union has given more than $1.25 million to current lawmakers, according to Illinois State Board of Elections data. CTU has logged support or opposition over 1,360 times on at least 480 bills between 2011-2022, according to data obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute from the Illinois General Assembly.

It’s a powerful dynamic over what goes on in Springfield, unmatched by the residents of Illinois.

The $60.2 million in union money went to 57 of 59 Illinois senators and 105 of 118 Illinois representatives between Jan. 1, 2010, and June 6, 2023. State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, was included as a sitting lawmaker because she was in office during the General Assembly’s spring 2023 session.

While some of the money was received earlier in lawmakers’ political careers and not while seated in the General Assembly, the receipt of union funds over the period of more than a decade charts a long history of support by unions.

Almost all of union political contributions went to Democrats

Of the nearly $60.2 million contributed to Illinois lawmakers, nearly $57.2 million – or 95% – has gone to Democrats. Only $3.1 million – or 5% – has gone to Republicans.

The average total donation Democratic lawmakers have received from unions is over $484,000, with the median falling at over $242,000. The average total donation to Republican lawmakers is less than $53,000, with the median falling at less than $6,000.

People can’t compete with the power of Illinois government unions

Government unions have the upper hand. They can demand virtually anything and go on strike to get their demands met. Lawmakers are prohibited from diminishing those rights.

Unions pour millions of dollars into the political campaigns of lawmakers. Previous research has found unions, as a block, significantly out-fund private corporations in giving to lawmakers.

Unions, including Illinois’ powerful government unions, then lobby lawmakers on the policies they support or oppose. Often, those policies have nothing to do with a union’s members or the sector of employment it represents. Take the Chicago Teachers Union, which has lobbied against specifically criminalizing the knowing destruction of critical infrastructure facilities, such as nuclear facilities.

Negotiations, political funding, lobbying: It’s a powerful trifecta, driving the policies that affect all Illinoisans.

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