With old campaign cash, Daley picks charity over politics

April 24, 2013

Longtime Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is emptying his old campaign war chest to do something that doesn’t happen too often in the notorious world of Illinois political money: He’s giving more than $500,000 to charity.

A spokeswoman for Daley, who served as mayor for 22 years before retiring in 2011, said he’s already started donating $540,000 to several Chicago area charities.

The donations range from $150,000 to After School Matters, a charity started by Chicago’s late first lady, Maggie Daley, to $20,000 to Sweet Beginnings LLC, a non-profit that teaches ex-cons about beekeeping, said Daley spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard.

Just before Daley left office in May of 2011, he had $556,070 left in his campaign account, according to state records. The money he isn’t giving to charity went to employees who ran the fund, Heard said.

Politicians routinely give to charity from campaign accounts, but it’s usually for more modest ends, such as softball uniforms or pancake breakfasts, or when they want to retire and draw down their war chests, said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois political scientist who studies Illinois campaign finance.

But Daley’s donations are different.

“That’s a huge amount,” Redfield said. “And there are not a lot of people that have funds that are that large, and then to give it, uh, all to charity is - is unusual.”

Legally, Daley had several less charitable ways he could have blown his donations.

Even in retirement, he could have used the cash for its original purpose: to win elections. Daley has a nephew who sits on a Chicago-area wastewater treatment board, and his brother, William Daley, is publicly flirting with a run for governor. But Daley likely doesn’t want to play kingmaker from retirement, said David Morrison, with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

“In some ways he was perhaps gun shy over his father’s reputation of being ‘The Boss,’” referring to former Mayor Richard J. Daley’s decades-long rule over Chicago’s Democratic political machine.

According to state campaign finance law, Daley could have returned the money to donors or pocketed it for himself, provided he pay income taxes.
So why give it to charity?

“Why not?” Heard said. “He obviously has done well since leaving office. And the mayor’s a charitable guy.”

Since leaving City Hall, Daley has joined the Chicago law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman, LLP where he is of counsel. He also sits on the board of Coca-Cola and has his hands in other civic and business ventures.