New Illinois Democratic Leader Helped Reelect Indicted Suburban Mayor

Robin Kelly
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., pictured in 2019. Associated Press
Robin Kelly
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., pictured in 2019. Associated Press

New Illinois Democratic Leader Helped Reelect Indicted Suburban Mayor

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Indicted Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta’s successful re-election campaign got financial support from Congresswoman Robin Kelly — who became the new leader of the Illinois Democratic Party last month.

Despite being hit with federal corruption charges in August, Presta won another term as leader of the south suburb in the election a week ago. And in newly filed campaign-finance reports, Presta disclosed that Kelly gave $250 to his political committee on Feb. 12.

Three weeks after that contribution, Illinois Democrats chose Kelly to replace longtime state party Chairman Michael Madigan — whose record tenure as Illinois House speaker also ended amid a Springfield bribery scandal involving Commonwealth Edison.

State records show ComEd’s political action committee contributed to Presta’s re-election campaign after his indictment, giving $275 to the Crestwood mayor on Dec. 31.

On Tuesday morning, after this story was published, a ComEd spokesman told WBEZ that Presta was returning the money to the electric utility.

“While we support local political and philanthropic events in the communities that we serve, the mayor and ComEd have agreed that the contributions will be refunded,” said the spokesman, Paul Elsberg, in a statement.

On Wednesday, Elsberg said ComEd actually had given the total of $400 to Presta in two contributions, with the second check being sent in March. Presta’s campaign had not disclosed the second contribution from ComEd.

But Elsberg said both donations “were not made with customer dollars” and Presta was returning all of the money from ComEd’s PAC.

In an ongoing, sprawling federal probe, ComEd has admitted to bribing its way to lucrative state legislation in a scheme designed to influence Madigan. But Madigan denies wrongdoing and has not been charged.

Meanwhile, the office of U.S. Atty. John Lausch, the top federal prosecutor in Chicago, accuses Presta of taking $5,000 from a representative of a red-light-camera company. The feds say Presta lied to them when he “falsely stated that there was no money in the envelope,” according to court records in his case.

Presta has pleaded not guilty and won a third term last week against two challengers.

The contributions from Kelly and ComEd were among 70 donations, for a total of about $68,000, that the Citizens for Presta political committee has reported getting since he was indicted on Aug. 7.

On Monday, Kelly’s political director, John V. Moore, confirmed her recent campaign donation to Presta but declined to comment further on it.

Moore said Presta’s son Tony is a longtime aide to Kelly, whose 2nd Illinois Congressional District does not include Crestwood.

The Illinois Republican Party said the contribution to Presta showed Kelly was no different from Madigan and was “subsidizing public corruption.”

“The people of Illinois are sick and tired of its leaders catering to political grifters and thieves,” the GOP said in a statement Tuesday. “Chairman Kelly should apologize for her misguided contribution.”

Presta’s campaign reported the contribution from Kelly to the state election board on Thursday, records show.

Kelly made one other contribution to Presta, a $200 donation in 2018, according to campaign-disclosure reports.

The congresswoman gave financial support to two other candidates in Tuesday’s municipal elections in the suburbs.

Kelly contributed $1,000 to Jackie Traynere, a losing candidate for mayor of Bolingbrook, and another $1,000 to Chasity Wells-Armstrong, Kankakee’s Democratic mayor who lost her re-election bid.

In addition to its donation in December, ComEd has made five other contributions to Presta for a total of $1,700 over the past seven years.

Reached by phone Monday, Lou Presta declined to comment on the contributions from Kelly and ComEd.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. State politics reporter Tony Arnold contributed to this story.