FILE - IL House Speaker Michael Madigan 2-27-18

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan talks at a press conference Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

Instead of a Christmas bonus, Clark Griswold got a one-year membership in the Jelly of the Month Club.

How much did typical member dues cost? “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” leaves this question unanswered. What did the dues pay for? Probably jelly. This is the simplicity we expect from subscription services. The Netflix subscription funds entertainment. The newspaper subscription funds reporting. The gym membership funds equipment and trainers.

Most public-sector workers in Illinois expect their union dues to fund representation at their workplace.

But that’s often not the case, as a recent high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit proves.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has spent nearly $900,000 defending his political machine against federal sexual harassment and retaliation claims made by former campaign worker Alaina Hampton. She accused former Madigan political lieutenant Kevin Quinn of sending her repeated text messages seeking romance. Quinn has since seen his home raided by the FBI as part of its sweeping anti-corruption investigations, which appear to be circling around the longtime House speaker.

Madigan’s campaign committee, Friends of Michael J. Madigan, settled with Hampton for $275,000 in early December.

“I’m not a money person, and no amount of money is going to give me those three years of my life back,” Hampton told the Chicago Sun-Times. She received about $75,000 after lawyers took their cut.

So who wants to fund a highly unpopular politician’s sexual harassment settlement on behalf of a disgraced political worker under federal investigation?

Executives at Illinois’ largest public-sector labor unions. That’s who.

Government worker unions and their political action committees together contributed $655,000 to campaign committees controlled by Madigan in October and November.

Payments totaling $71,400 came from AFSCME, the national organization for Illinois’ largest public employee union, AFSCME Council 31. Plenty of AFSCME literature leads members to believe that only the money they specifically dedicate to the union’s PAC, over and above their dues, is used for political purposes. That’s not true.

The $71,400 contribution to Friends of Michael J. Madigan didn’t come from AFSCME’s PAC. It came directly from AFSCME’s national headquarters, which takes a cut of every dues dollar from its state affiliates. There was nothing to keep AFSCME from using member dues to fund the speaker’s sexual harassment defense.

Lack of transparency is nothing new for AFSCME. Federal documents show Council 31 spent more than $7.7 million on political activities and lobbying from 2013 to 2017. But lax reporting requirements allowed more than half of that political spending to be non-itemized, meaning the specific activity is completely unknown to paying members.

AFSCME wasn’t the only union funneling member money to Madigan.

PACs associated with SEIU Healthcare and SEIU Illinois sent nearly $500,000 to Madigan campaign committees in October, including $113,200 to Friends of Michael J. Madigan. The paper trail shows how some of this money was taken out of members’ dues.

Records with the Illinois State Board of Elections reveal SEIU Illinois in September shifted $350,000 in money marked “dues” into its PAC. That PAC then funneled money to Madigan’s various committees. Similarly, SEIU Healthcare moved $466,000 into its PACs in September.

Why would union leadership at AFSCME and SEIU send money to cover for a sexual harasser? Members certainly didn’t demand it.

It’s all part of the vicious cycle of member money. Madigan and his allies back up union leadership with large government contracts and perks. Then union leadership repays the favor. Not all of this is in members’ interests. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s most recent state contract with AFSCME 31, for example, hands over workers’ personal information to AFSCME, including their sex, personal cellphone numbers, personal email addresses and Social Security numbers with no limit on how the union uses that information.

Until 2018, average public sector workers in Illinois had no choice but to shut up and pay up in the face of unsavory union politics. Even workers who opted out of the union had to pay hundreds of dollars in “fair share” fees.

That all changed when Mark Janus, a former child support specialist for the state of Illinois, sued AFSCME and won. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling freed millions of government workers nationwide from having to pay money to a union just to keep their job.

Plenty of AFSCME or SEIU members would rather become a Jelly of Month Club member than pay for the boorish behavior of a Madigan political worker.

Now, they’re free to leave.

Austin Berg is a Chicago-based writer with the Illinois Policy Institute who wrote this column for The Center Square. Austin can be reached at aberg@illinoispolicy.org.

Contributing Columnist

Austin Berg's award-winning work has been featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, and he has appeared on ABC 7 Chicago and WTTW. Berg was also the writer of the documentary film “Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics.”