Chicago alderman vows to return donation, then takes her time

March 30, 2011

For a Better Chicago PAC – that well-funded, mysterious monster of the Chicago municipal elections – gave $10,000 to 6th Ward Ald. Freddrenna Lyle. The alderman received the donation on February 11th, and reported it to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

A few weeks later, For a Better Chicago started taking some extra heat from good government groups and the press. The crux of the complaints: that For a Better Chicago’s nonprofit arm slipped more than $850,000 in donations to its political arm before the end of 2010, allowing it to avoid any and all disclosure on the source of that cash. This was shady, some argued. But it was not illegal, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Lyle first defended her decision to accept the donation, then vowed in the Tribune to return it:

“I’m giving it back, I just wanted you to know. […] There has been some discussion that this group represents Republican interests, and if that is the case then the people in my ward would not like that very much. […] When I read the Chicago Tribune today and how this PAC tried to ignore rules and regulations to avoid disclosure, I just decided I didn't want that to become an artificial issue in my campaign. Then the mayor-elect called upon them to disclose their donors. I just thought it was for the best.”

The trouble is, she hasn’t. That quote appeared in a Tribune story dated March 3rd – four weeks ago, and For a Better Chicago PAC said Wednesday it still has not received any money back from Lyle.

I called the alderman and asked what was up – and whether she still intended to return the cash. She said she does. The delay, according to Lyle, was a matter of postal service mistrust, and a second briefcase.

Lyle said her campaign actually made out a check for $10,000 to For a Better Chicago PAC on March 11, the week after her comments to the Tribune.

“Originally I was going to mail it, and then I said, ‘I’m not going to put a $10,000 check in the mail.' And I wanted to return it to them, and then I hadn’t been downtown, and then it got in the briefcase," Lyle said, explaining that she has two briefcases.

"And then I found it in the briefcase, and said, ‘What am I doing? I’ve got to get it down there.’ Because it has got to show up on their D2s.”

D2s are a political committee’s quarterly disclosure reports. And if Lyle doesn’t hand For a Better Chicago the check before the end of this month, there would be confusion: her campaign's report would indicate she had paid back the money to For a Better Chicago, but the PAC’s report would show it hadn't received it.

"And I certainly don’t want any issues with the Illinois board of elections,” Lyle said.

The alderman said she’s going to return it – in person – to the PAC’s office.

“I think it’s going to be very awkward, but it is what it is,” Lyle said, adding - with laughter, “It might be why I subliminally...forgot, you know.”

For a Better Chicago PAC is well aware of Lyle’s vow to return the money. In fact, after endorsing Lyle before the February 22nd election, it left her off of its list for the April 5th runoff.