Updated 5:14 p.m.
Mayoral challenger Paul Vallas says he returned a campaign contribution from a controversial former school board member on Tuesday after WBEZ asked him about the financial support from Deborah Quazzo.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Quazzo to the Chicago Board of Education in 2013, but the wealthy investment banker left the board after media reports detailed her stakes in companies doing business with the schools.
The inspector general for Chicago Public Schools later found that Quazzo had engaged in “horrible” ethical violations, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in May.
Now, records show Vallas — who was CPS CEO under Mayor Richard M. Daley — accepted a $500 campaign contribution from Quazzo on June 7.
But hours after a WBEZ reporter contacted him, Vallas’ campaign sent a statement saying he would return the money from Quazzo.
“Deborah Quazzo is a highly respected businesswoman and education advocate who I met briefly at a conference where I spoke,” Vallas said. “Her $500 donation came through our website and was automatically deposited to our campaign account. To avoid any appearance of conflict, we returned her check.”
In text messages to a WBEZ reporter, Vallas’ brother and campaign treasurer Dean Vallas sent a photo of a check to Quazzo for $500 from the “Paul Vallas for All Chicago” campaign committee.
"I just sent this contribution back to Quazzo that she made online,” Dean Vallas wrote. “I didn’t see it come in or I would’ve sent it back before."
Dean Vallas added, "Ask Rahm to return any contributions associated with [indicted union boss John] Coli, the $50K from [President Donald] Trump and most of the 70 percent of his donor who benefit from City Hall."
Trump contributed to Emanuel in 2010, and Coli’s Teamsters have been major contributors to the mayor since his first campaign for mayor.
In an email to WBEZ, Quazzo declined to discuss the contribution to Vallas, writing, “No thank you … I can’t do that.”
Quazzo had been an early backer of Emanuel. She gave $5,000 to Emanuel’s first campaign for mayor eight years ago, according to state campaign-finance disclosure reports.
Emanuel says he’s running for a third term, and Vallas has announced that he will challenge him in the February 2019 election.
Vallas was Daley’s schools chief from 1995 until 2001. He lost in a bid for governor in 2002 and made a failed run for lieutenant governor in 2014.
Earlier Tuesday, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey had called on Vallas to give Quazzo her money back.
Sharkey said Quazzo “epitomizes what was wrong with Mayor Emanuel’s appointed school board.”
“She brings discredit on anybody she touches,” Sharkey said. “I would think that her money would be radioactive to anybody who wanted to be a steward of the schools.”
Quazzo became embroiled in controversy after the Sun-Times reported that companies she had investments in got triple the amount of business from CPS in her first year on the school board.
Her companies reaped more than $3.8 million from deals with the school district and another $1.3 million from CPS-approved charter schools, the newspaper found.
In 2015, Quazzo said she hadn’t done anything wrong, but she asked that Emanuel not reappoint her to the school board.
CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s investigation into the matter later found that Quazzo directly contacted CPS principals to promote a company she had a large investment in, despite denying she had done so.
Quazzo’s contribution last month was among a total of nearly $436,000 that Vallas’ campaign reported raising in the three-month period that ended on June 30.
The Vallas campaign fund said it had spent only $1,367.33, leaving Vallas with about $435,000 in cash on hand.
During the same period, Emanuel raised more than $6 million. The mayor ended last month with about $7.5 million in his re-election campaign coffers.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ. Follow him at @dmihalopoulos.