CHICAGO — Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) took aim Monday at the common practice of Illinois elected officials dipping into their campaign funds to pay for lawyers by filing a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections against his disgraced predecessor, former Ald. Danny Solis.
Sigcho-Lopez’s complaint to the Illinois State Board of Elections alleges that it makes no sense to prohibit politicians from using cash from campaign contributors for personal reasons — like clothes, haircuts and club memberships — but allow them to pay “legal expenses not related to their campaigns for political office.”
“This practice is illegal and disgraceful, but it exists because it goes unchallenged,” according to the complaint filed Monday.
In May, Solis paid $220,000 to cover legal fees to Foley & Lardner LLP, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Solis, who did not run for re-election to the City Council in 2019, has not been seen at City Hall since the Sun-Times reported in January that he accepted sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm once owned by Oprah Winfrey and a steady stream of campaign contributions in return for for City Council actions.
Solis also served as an informant for federal investigators for two years, and he later provided evidence against Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who has been charged with 14 counts of racketeering, bribery and extortion. Burke has pleaded not guilty.
Solis has not been charged with wrongdoing.
Sigcho-Lopez, a member of the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, is running to replace Solis as the 25th Ward Democratic committeeperson in the March 2020 primary elections.
“We need to make clear what the guidelines are,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “And we need to be held accountable.”
Solis has not announced whether he plans to seek another term, and did not join other committeepeople at this fall’s slating meetings for the 2020 primary election.
The complaint filed by Sigcho-Lopez asks the Illinois State Board of Elections to fine Solis, the chairman of the 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, and Grace Perales, the committee’s treasurer, $220,500.
Neither Solis nor Perales could be reached for comment Monday.
The payment to Foley & Lardner LLP is “of an entirely personal matter because it is related to Daniel Solis’ legal troubles with the federal government,” and therefore in violation of Illinois’ election code, according to the complaint filed on Sigcho-Lopez’s behalf by attorney Adolfo Mondragon.
“We believe the law has always been clear, but it has never been enforced,” Mondragon said. “As long as no one complains, they assume that it is legit.”
The complaint notes that Solis has not been a candidate since he ran for committeeperson in 2016.
Legal fees paid to an attorney to give the candidate legal advice on withstanding a ballot challenge or other aspects of election law would be proper under the election code, Mondragon said.
A candidate would not be allowed to use campaign contributions to handle a divorce or close on a property sale, and should not be allowed to use those funds to pay for their criminal defense, Mondragon said.
“This is common sense,” Mondragon said. “If not, these funds become slush funds with no rules.”
Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperson Matt Dietrich said there was nothing in state statute to prohibit elected officials from using campaign cash to pay legal fees. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Burke have made similar payments in recent weeks, records show.
A board hearing officer will hold a closed-door hearing on Sigcho-Lopez complaint this month, Dietrich said.
The recommendation of the hearing officer will be forwarded to the board’s general counsel, who will recommend to the board whether to accept the hearing officer’s recommendation, Dietrich said.
The eight-member board could hear Sigcho-Lopez’s complaint as soon as Dec. 16, and if a majority decides the complaint is justified it could impose financial penalties, Dietrich said.