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Replace Shirley Madigan on the Illinois Arts Council

Forbes Online

Thursday, July 20, 2017  |  Commentary  |  Adam Andrzejewski Contributor

Attorney General (6) , Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22
The Illinois Arts Council – led by the matriarch of the most powerful political family in Illinois – conferred grants without official meetings, ignored rampant conflicts of interest, and funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to asset-rich organizations – including media outlets – which don’t need public money.

Although Michael Madigan has served as the Illinois House Speaker for 34 years, interrupted for just two years in the 1990s, his wife, Shirley Madigan, has clinched a position on the Illinois Arts Council since 1976. She has served as the chair of the council since 1983.

Governor Bruce Rauner must move immediately to end Shirley Madigan’s tenure on the Illinois Arts Council. Rauner has an historic opportunity to appoint thirteen fresh faces and take a reform majority on this important council of twenty-one. Two weeks ago, Shirley Madigan’s latest term expired alongside twelve other board members.

Over the past three years, Shirley Madigan’s Arts Council rarely met. Instead of holding tri-annual board meetings – as they’ve pledged to do – the council never met during the entire fiscal year of 2016. Still, without the sunshine of a public meeting, the council paid-out grants, salaries, and operational expenses. Only later did the board ratify the payments.

How does a governmental body confer and distribute millions of dollars in federal and state funding over a two-year period without an official meeting? The Edgar County Watchdogs sued the Illinois Arts Council for violations of the Freedom of Information Act and found no official meetings from August 2014 until October 2016.

Conflicts of interest between board members and affiliated organizations are rampant at the Arts Council. In fiscal year 2015 alone, board members disclosed conflicts causing 40 vote ‘abstentions.’ Loyola University – where Shirley Madigan received her master’s degree – has received $95,100 in grants since 2012. Henry Godinez is the resident artistic associate at the Goodman Theater, and Goodman received $165,650 since 2012.

One of the most conflicted board members is Christina Gidwitz, the wife of prominent Republican scion Ron Gidwitz. Since 2014, Ms. Gidwitz’s self-declared conflicts include The Field Museum of Natural History (they endowed the Ronald and Christina Gidwitz Hall of Birds), Loyola University (they’re big donors), and the Lyric Opera (Ron serves as a director). These entities received $503,000 in Arts Council grants since 2012.

The Illinois Arts Council’s grants are not only made in the dark and riddled with conflicts, but they’re funding some of the richest arts organizations. Largely, taxpayer funding wasn’t awarded to ‘starving artists,’ but to well-connected entities with political clout.

IIt's a Madigan family business - the most powerful political family in Illinois.

It’s a Madigan family business – politics.

In the past five years, Shirley Madigan’s Arts Council awarded $32.8 million in grants. Our OpenTheBooks.com findings reveal 37 cents on every $1 in grants flowed to just 20 well-heeled, asset-rich organizations. In total, these 20 rich organizations received $12.1 million despite controlling financial assets of at least $3.1 billion. None of these entities can argue they needed taxpayer funding.

Seven of the top ten largest grant recipients were television and radio station nonprofits – not traditional arts groups. It’s easy to see that the Madigans want to curry political favor with radio and television media – $7.3 million to 21 stations buys a lot of favorable coverage.

Consider the details:

  • Since 2012, WTTW Communications won funding of $2.5 million and was the largest recipient of Illinois Arts Council funding despite $50 million in revenue and $72 million in financial assets.
  • WBEZ Chicago Public Media – a national public radio affiliate – received nearly $800,000 despite $57.2 million in assets.
  • WILL – an AM/FM and television partnership between the University of Illinois, Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio based in Urbana – received $990,865 despite annual revenues of $10 million.
  • WSIU in Carbondale received $845,822 despite annual revenues of $4 million.

Outside of radio and television funding, the Illinois Arts Council gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to some of the richest arts organizations despite their impressive balance sheets. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra nearly $300,000 while controlling assets of $528.7 million. The Art Institute of Chicago received nearly $235,000 notwithstanding its $1.5 billion asset base. The University of Chicago received $114,100 in funding despite assets totaling $12 billion.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan – Michael and Shirley’s daughter – vowed to the Chicago Tribune editorial board in 2002, “It’s time that Illinois’ highest legal official takes an active, hands-on role in cleaning up government. And I will not let them down.” Madigan said she’d even prosecute her father, if necessary.

Instead, maybe Attorney General Madigan should investigate her mother.

Adam Andrzejewski (say: Angie-eff-ski) is the Founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com – a national transparency organization with a database of 4 billion federal, state and local expenditures.