Clayborne is living a luxurious lifestyle — courtesy of donors

Campaign money typically is used for signs, brochures, mailers, maybe even TV commercials — anything to get the word out to win an election.

But a report that aired Thursday on Fox 2 raises serious questions about the way state Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, spends contributions to his campaign funds. The Fox 2 report and a review of public records show Clayborne spending much of his campaign cash to live a luxurious lifestyle, not to get out the vote.

According to public records, since 2003, Clayborne’s campaign committee, Friends of Clayborne, has spent $42,919 on Book-A-Limo, a New York-based company that chauffeurs people in limos, vans and SUVs. The service was used at least 236 times.

Documents show that the Book-A-Limo has been used for transportation to golf outings, speeches in Chicago, meetings with companies such as AT&T Inc. and retirement parties. Clayborne used Book-A-Limo when he attended the funeral of state Rep. Lovana Jones, D-Chicago, in 2006. The tab: $431.

For a check presentation ceremony in 2007, the campaign forked out $403 for Book-A-Limo. During a visit the White House in 2014, Clayborne’s rides amounted to $739. Even the 2009 impeachment hearings for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich merited Book-A-Limo, costing $437.

Courtesy of his donors, Clayborne also became something of a world traveler. Records show campaign money has paid for travel to Egypt, the U.K., China, Puerto Rico, Japan, Vietnam, South Africa, Turkey and Jordan.

His campaign has also spent $87,868 on airfare. It has upgraded airline tickets 62 times, and it appears Clayborne only once reimbursing those costs. The campaign also leases a car and pays for auto insurance, amounting to $43,886 since 2003.

Clayborne, the state Senate’s majority leader, gets most of his campaign money through donations from special interests. Government unions are among his largest contributors.

According to an Illinois Policy Institute analysis, Clayborne received more than $340,000 from government unions since 2002. This makes him the seventh highest recipient of government union money of all sitting legislators.

Notably, more than three-fourths of these contributions came from teachers unions.

One has to wonder: How does international travel and limousine rides make Clayborne more apt to improve public education?

In most elections, Clayborne sails to victory or runs unopposed. This past November, however, he squeaked by with 51.8 percent of the vote against Republican Katherine Ruocco.

In the last two years, his campaign spent nearly $750,000 — more than 10 times his opponent’s spending. Of course, much of his money went toward limos, airlines and other items that had little to do with campaigning.

Clayborne defended this spending to Fox 2 by pointing out that these were his own campaign funds, not taxpayers’ money. It would be egregious for taxpayer dollars to be spent on these extravagances. While it does not appear he is doing anything illegal, it does raise questions.

Campaign contributors generally expect their money to be spent on campaigning, not luxuries. When that doesn’t happen, donors can become upset: On April 15, a Chicago lawyer sued former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock. The lawsuit said the congressman deceived contributors on how he would spend their money. Recall that Schock resigned in March after revelations that he tapped his campaign fund for Downton Abbey office décor, flights on private aircraft and mileage reimbursements.

It’s no secret that communities in Clayborne’s 57th District have low median household incomes. For instance, East St. Louis’ is $19,161.

The way Schock and Clayborne spend their campaign money calls into question whether they are servants to the people, or the other way around.

David Giuliani is the government reform analyst for the Illinois Policy Institute. He may be reached at 312-346-5700 or dgiuliani@illinoispolicy.org.