Even though former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert left office in 2007, he continued to donate money through his political action committee in order to help the campaigns of his fellow Republicans, including two locally.
Hastert’s PAC — Keep Our Mission — gave more than $4.3 million to various recipients nationwide, including approximately $350,000 to Illinois politicians, according to data collected by the Federal Election Commission. Those politicians included U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.
Shimkus’ campaign received at least $20,470 from Hastert’s PAC since 1997, and a PAC affiliated with Shimkus, the John S Fund, received a $5,000 donation in 2012, according to FEC reports.
However, according to the Shimkus campaign, that money is already gone.
“Our policy is that money donated during a past election cycle has already been spent,” said Steve Tomaszewski, spokesman for Volunteers for Shimkus.
The Shimkus campaign has about $657,500 on hand, according to its latest FEC report.
Davis received $2,000 in 2012. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on what it will do with the money.
Various committees supporting Jim Oberweis for congressional and senate campaigns have received at least $21,000 since his first U.S. Senate run in 2002.
If they (donations) are not returned quickly, then that becomes an entirely different story. Usually, political campaigns are savvy enough to know to return these kinds of contributions relatively quickly.
Ken Moffett, SIUE political science professor
Hastert was sentenced last week to 15 months in prison, and two years of supervised release, on a banking violation in a case linked to sexual abuse of teenage boys.
A PAC is a political organization that raises and spends money to elect and defeat political candidates, according to Open Secrets, which tracks political donations. PACs may give up to $5,000 to a political candidate per election cycle, $15,000 to a political party per year, and $5,000 to other PACs per year.
In addition, “PACs may receive up to $5,000 from any one individual, PAC or party committee per calendar year.
Hastert had illegally structured payments in order to keep the IRS unaware of hush money he was paying to one of his victims, from when Hastert was a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in the Chicago suburbs. Hastert intended to pay one of his victims $3.5 million to conceal the abuse.
Prosecutors have said Hastert abused at least four students throughout his years at the school about 45 miles southwest of Chicago.
Hastert was in Congress from 1987 through 2007, and served as speaker, only behind the vice president in the line of succession, from 1999 until 2007.
Hastert’s PAC was founded in 1997 as “Keep our Majority” and changed its name to Keep Our Mission in 2007 when Republicans lost majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. It continued making campaign donations for several years after leaving office. His last one, in September 2014, was to the failed state treasurer bid of Tom Cross, whose brother testified as a victim against Hastert during last Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.
Cross, the former state representative for District 97 near Chicago, was the most out of any Illinois politician to receive money from Hastert’s PAC, about $21,000 according to the FEC.
Donations to politicians can often become tainted when their contributors face legal or moral problems. The donations “can be used as public relations tools but have limited effectiveness if the campaign contributions are returned quickly,” Dr. Ken Moffett, a political scientist at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, wrote in an email.
“Candidates running for Congress and other political committees” returned 1.6 percent of all donations in 2012, according to the New York Times.
“If they are not returned quickly, then that becomes an entirely different story. Usually, political campaigns are savvy enough to know to return these kinds of contributions relatively quickly,” Moffett explained, adding that the bigger the donation and name of the politician, the bigger the problem can be.
Last year, after Hastert was indicted, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, contributed $10,000, the equivalent amount received from Hastert’s PAC, to a charity.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, received a total of $11,000 in 2009 and 2013 from Hastert’s PAC, but recently donated an equivalent amount to a Missouri charity that works toward ending child abuse, according to media reports.
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, whose district encompasses much of St. Louis County, received $2,500 in 2011. A spokesman for the committee said it gave $2,750 to St. Louis Crisis Nursery, a charity “committed to the prevention of child abuse and neglect (that) provides emergency intervention, respite care and support to families in crisis.”
“Congresswoman Ann Wagner is active in local efforts to combat child abuse,” spokesman Brecht Mulvihill wrote in an email. “Under no circumstances should we turn a blind eye to abuse of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
He sent a copy of the check to the News-Democrat. It was dated April 29, 2016 — two days after Hastert was sentenced.
Meanwhile, Hastert’s PAC, Keep Our Mission, filed for termination in 2015.