Updated 7 p.m.
Chicago mayoral hopeful Susana Mendoza received a big infusion of campaign cash last year from the political organization of Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward) — who is a mole in the federal corruption investigation against powerful Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward).
Records show Solis’ 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization gave $55,400 on March 15 to Mendoza. She was re-elected as Illinois comptroller in November, but promptly declared her candidacy for mayor in next month’s election.
It remains by far the single biggest contribution that Solis has ever made, according to state campaign finance reports.
A spokeswoman for Mendoza’s mayoral campaign said Wednesday that Mendoza would keep the money from Solis because he has not been accused of any crime.
“If Danny Solis is charged with wrongdoing, Susana will donate the contribution,” the spokeswoman, Rebecca Evans, said in a statement sent to WBEZ.
On the same day as the contribution from Solis, Mendoza received another $45,200 from five companies whose board members are investors in a firm founded by Solis’ sister Patti Doyle Solis and one of the alderman’s longtime supporters, lawyer Brian Hynes.
That company, Vendor Assistance Program LLC, is based in Chicago and has been a major beneficiary of a program to speed payments to government contractors owed money from the state.
“I sold my interest in the firm in September 2016,” Solis Doyle told WBEZ in an email Wednesday.
But Solis Doyle — who was a top aide to Hillary Clinton for many years — had sent out an invitation for a fundraiser she’s hosting for Mendoza’s mayoral campaign in Washington on Tuesday.
The fundraiser will take place, Evans said, but will be rescheduled “because Patti’s father-in-law just passed and she is unable to host at this time.”
Hynes is still a major shareholder in VAP, state records show.
The Chicago Sun-Times first reported Wednesday that Danny Solis secretly recorded conversations with Burke for federal authorities, who charged Burke on Jan. 3 with attempted extortion.
Solis announced last year that he would not run for re-election in February. He has been alderman of the 25th Ward, which covers much of Pilsen and Chinatown, since 1996.
Solis was a close ally of retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley, serving for many years as chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee.
Solis and his lawyer, former federal prosecutor Lisa Noller, did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
At City Hall on Wednesday, Burke said, “No. 1, I’ve done nothing wrong, and no recording that Danny Solis can make would change that.”
Burke has been accused of blocking approval for a Burger King renovation project in his ward in an effort to force the fast-food restaurant’s owners to hire his private law firm, which specializes in filing property tax appeals.
Burke swiftly resigned as chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee after he was charged this month, but he has said he’s running for another term as alderman of the Southwest Side ward he has represented since 1969.
The criminal case against Burke has become a major issue in the 14-person race for mayor. That’s because several candidates in the Feb. 26 election — including Mendoza, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and former Chicago School Board President Gery Chico — have deep connections to him.
Mendoza appears to be the mayoral candidate who is closest to Solis.
She worked on Solis’ first campaign for alderman, according to his supporter Hynes.
And Solis strongly supported Mendoza when she won her first election in 2000, for a seat in the Illinois House.
The $55,400 contribution to Mendoza from Solis’ political organization was made at a fundraiser for Mendoza hosted by Juan Gaytan, at the offices of Gaytan’s Monterrey Security, according to Hynes. The alderman’s brother, Santiago Solis, once was an owner of Monterrey Security.
Hynes said he, Solis and some of his fellow investors in VAP attended the event for the Democratic comptroller.
“We strongly support everything she does,” Hynes said of Mendoza, whose office controls payments to all state vendors.
At the fundraiser, four Florida companies and a Delaware firm gave a total of more than $45,000 to Mendoza. Records show all of those companies include one or more board members who are investors in VAP.
Just a few months later, in June, VAP and two of those companies gave $55,500 to Solis’ 25th Ward Democratic fund. Hynes said there was “no link whatsoever” between Solis’ major donation to Mendoza in March and the nearly identical sum that VAP and the other two companies contributed to Solis a few months later.
The same two companies contributed another $11,100 each to Mendoza in September.
VAP is the largest company among five that operate under a lucrative state program designed to help contractors get paid more quickly if the state owes them payments that are 90 or more days past due.
The companies purchase the contractors’ unpaid bills, cover what contractors are owed to be made whole, and then pocket additional late payment penalties from the state once the Illinois comptroller releases payment for the original billing.
That program flourished during the Illinois historic two-year budget impasse, when the state’s backlog of bills climbed to $16 billion.
Since 2011, VAP has received or is due to receive more than $397.4 million in late payment penalties. That windfall is what will have accrued from more than $3.7 billion in unpaid state receivables that were purchased by the firm, state records show.
Evans, the Mendoza campaign spokeswoman, said the comptroller’s office had never favored VAP or other companies in that state program.
“As comptroller, Susana refused to put companies ahead of the line as she prioritized payments to the state’s most vulnerable people,” Evans said. “Her only priority was making sure that the state’s schools, nursing homes, pension obligations and other high-need areas were paid before others.”
WBEZ City Hall reporter Claudia Morell contributed to this reporting.