For those keeping score, four current or recent members of the Illinois Senate have pleaded guilty to corruption charges or are facing trial.
Last week’s federal indictment of former state Sen. Sam McCann demonstrates again that when it comes to allegedly pursuing self-interest, Illinois’ rough-and-tumble politics is more bipartisan than some might think.
The 51-year-old McCann, who was first elected as a Republican, was charged last week with income-tax evasion, wire fraud and money laundering. He joins Democrats Thomas Cullerton, Martin Sandoval and Terry Link in the Senate’s rogue gallery of not-so-selfless public servants.
McCann, who is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 16, left the Senate after the 2018 election. Cullerton, a suburban Villa Park resident who remains in the Senate, faces trial on charges of stealing from the Teamsters union.
Link, who pleaded guilty to income-tax evasion, is hoping for a reduced sentence after he helped ensnare a corrupt House member in a bribery scheme. The Waukegan-area legislator resigned his Senate seat after acknowledging his guilt.
Sandoval, a Chicago resident, pleaded guilty to bribery and income-tax evasion. He agreed to testify against his co-conspirators to get a break on his sentence.
But Sandoval died before having to appear in court to rat out his friends.
Most Illinoisans are not familiar with McCann, who is from Macoupin County. He attracted brief statewide attention in 2018 when he ran as a Conservative Party alternative to then-incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
In the best tradition of Illinois’ shady politics, McCann’s campaign was financed by Democrats as a means of drawing votes away from Rauner.
Operating through a campaign fund named “Fight Back Illinois,” Democrats poured more than $3 million into McCann’s campaign. The government alleges McCann helped himself to his unsuccessful campaign’s cash surplus after collecting just 4 percent of the vote in his three-way race with Rauner and 2018 Democratic winner J.B. Pritzker.
State election records describe Fight Back Illinois as an East Moline-based campaign fund whose goal is to “support Democratic candidates in state and local elections.” McCann also received considerable public support from Operating Engineers Local 150, which has strong ties to Democrats.
McCann’s fraternization with Democrats ultimately caused state Sen. Bill Brady, leader of Senate Republicans, to throw him out of the party caucus. McCann, in turn, sued to get back in, but a federal judge said McCann had no grounds to win reinstatement.
When he first sought public office, McCann was identified as the operator of construction-related businesses. But he also had a reputation as an individual saddled with personal and business debts.
Authorities allege he used in excess of $200,000 in campaign funds to pay a wide variety of expenses.
Illinois’ loose campaign finance laws allow legislators considerable flexibility in spending. Once, they were even looser.
Kent Redfield, a retired political science professor at Illinois-Springfield, recalls that — years ago — legislators spent campaign donations on their children’s college education or, in at least one case, a spouse’s nursing-home expenses.
Rules, however, now strictly forbid use of campaign funds for personal expenses.
McCann, according to the indictment, caused a $20,000 cashier’s check written on his campaign account to be issued to him. He used the money to “pay off a personal loan, including legal fees, that had been originally issued to him as an equipment loan in 2011 and that was in collection by the bank in 2016 due to non-payment.”
The indictment cites a laundry list of other transactions. McCann bought vehicles with campaign money that he listed in his own name. He paid himself a salary as part of his campaign and retained a private agency to handle the bookkeeping, an effort authorities alleged was an attempt to cover up the transactions.
Authorities said he was using leftover campaign funds well after the 2018 campaign ended. That included nearly $65,000 “in payments on two separate personal mortgage loans that were secured by his former residence in Carlinville and an adjoining property that he used as an office for his construction business.”
McCann, who sank from public view after the 2018 election, lives in Plainview, a small community located near Carlinville in Macoupin County.
Now that he’s in trouble over his alleged misuse of money, McCann will need a lot of money to hire a lawyer. But he’s exhausted his Conservative Party fund, which shows a balance of $15.66.
Given his financial headaches, it would be no surprise if McCann asks the federal court to appoint a lawyer to represent him because he cannot afford to hire one of his own.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.