Reinsdorf Made Big Donations to Rauner, Rahm, Other ISFA Influencers

For more than three decades, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been getting fat on government subsidies. In that time, he’s made sure to stuff the hands that feed him.

In a search of individual donors since 1994 (when the Illinois State Board of Elections began digitizing records), BP South Side found $731,413 in political contributions to state and local candidates from Jerry Reinsdorf, his businesses, and his family.*

These donations aren’t limited to either political party or any political philosophy. Reinsdorf has contributed significant amounts to both Democrats and Republicans who have influence over the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA).

The ISFA is the government agency that built and maintains U.S. Cellular Field. The Illinois General Assembly created it to act in the interest of taxpayers in negotiations with the White Sox, over things like ticket fees and ballpark improvements. But since the park opened in 1991, the Sox have enjoyed one of the most team-friendly agreements in baseball, and numerous state-funded ballpark renovations.

As the body that installed it, the General Assembly has legislative authority over the ISFA, along with a small measure of oversight. Reinsdorf has given handsomely to Illinois legislators in recent decades, including $27,650 to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, going back to 1994. Over the same period, the Sox chairman paid current Democratic Senate President John Cullerton a total of $7,572, and an additional $50,500 to various Democratic political committees in the state legislature. Emil Jones Jr., the senate president preceding Cullerton, received $21,740 from Reinsdorf while serving office.

Despite his heavy investment in state Democrats, Reinsdorf is not a man of party allegiance. From 1994-2000, he donated $12,498 to Lee Daniels, the longtime House Republican Leader, who served briefly as House Speaker. Reinsdorf also provided funds to Republican Senate President James “Pate” Philip totaling $12,309, and $9,600 to the House Republican Organization.

Leaders of the Illinois legislature have indirect control over the ISFA, but the mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois are responsible for appointing the seven members of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority Board, who have direct governing and administrative power in the state’s dealings with the White Sox. And so, the most concerning contributions from Reinsdorf have gone to these ISFA influencers.

From 2001 to 2015, Reinsdorf, his sons (who are also business partners), and his business entities (such as the Chicago White Sox, Encounters Ltd., CBLS Corp, and JMR Trust) made at least $355,230 in contributions to Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel, Rod Blagojevich, Pat Quinn, and Bruce Rauner.

Chicago mayors directly appoint three ISFA board members, and approve the ISFA chairman, who is picked by the governor. Reinsdorf has bought heavily into both of Chicago’s mayors over the last two decades. Daley received $59,250 in donations from 2000 to 2006. And from 2011 to 2015, Reinsdorf awarded Emanuel $75,000. Three Emanuel appointees currently serve on the ISFA board.

Reinsdorf has kept his pen and checkbook handy over Illinois’ last four gubernatorial terms as well.

The governor has the authority to appoint four ISFA board members, including the chair. From 2002 to 2005, Reinsdorf contributed $36,000 to Blagojevich’s election fund, which included the use of a private plane. Quinn received $73,980 during his time as governor, from 2009 to 2014. In 2011, he appointed Emil Jones Jr. as ISFA chairman. As previously mentioned, Jones also received tens of thousands in political donations from Reinsdorf. Finally, in the short time since he was elected to office in 2014, Rauner has racked up $75,000 in Reindorf contributions. Rauner appointed four new ISFA board members in 2015.

Reinsdorf’s generosity toward elected officials has paid off over the years. Apart from the benefits of a stadium agreement that requires the state to maintain, improve, and pay off debt for U.S. Cellular Field at a hefty loss every year, the White Sox have enjoyed a number of expensive perks, courtesy of the ISFA.

To name a few:

  • In 1998, the ISFA released the White Sox from any obligation to pay media fees from television revenue, before the sports television market took off.
  • In 2000, the ISFA built a conference center that it maintains to this day for the team’s exclusive use during the season.
  • As part of the ISFA’s deal for Soldier Field, about $30 million made its way over to Comiskey Park (as it was known then) for ballpark renovations in 2001-2.
  • In 2003, the White Sox were offered, and agreed to, an extension of their team-friendly lease until 2025.
  • In 2010, the ISFA financed construction of a new restaurant outside of U.S. Cellular Field, from which the team keeps the profits.
  • This season, the state paid for construction and maintenance of new state-of-the-art video boards.

If, at one time, we were willing to accept that state and city officials exhibited bad judgement in their dealings with Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox, a little political research, and hundreds and hundreds of thousands in donations later, it looks more like corruption.

*Because political contributions can be masked in various ways, and because some of the data we’re using was entered manually in the IL State Board of Elections database and may be incomplete, the numbers reported here are limited to contributions that are available and verifiable electronically. Therefore, they should be viewed as minimum amounts Reinsdorf contributed to state and local politicians.


Lead Image Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski // USA Today Sports Images

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3 comments on “Reinsdorf Made Big Donations to Rauner, Rahm, Other ISFA Influencers”

Dan Rivera

Another lousey deal in a city that cant afford lousy deals. No worries, the city will just cut public services and scapegoating public employees. Because thats the problem. Thanks Jerry!!

James Fegan

If you’re using the perceived misbehavior of an owner of one team to validate your fandom of another team, you probably need to read up more on the ownership of your team.

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