SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Six months after his colleagues quietly removed him from power, former Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady is contemplating a political comeback.
In a Wednesday night phone call en route from Florida to Illinois, Brady (R-Bloomington) said he’s considering a potential statewide run for office as Secretary of State, Governor, or perhaps Senator Tammy Duckworth’s seat in the U.S. Senate.
“I’m interested in public service, and I’m entertaining different ways I can serve,” Brady said.
Senate Republicans ousted him in a private meeting last fall, opting instead to hand the reins of the caucus’ top job to Senator Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods). Brady announced his retirement from his Senate seat shortly thereafter.
When Brady left office, his campaign committee was flush with $825,586. When he took on the role as leader of the Senate Republicans, his campaign account had just $75,574 in it. Several disgruntled Republicans felt gypped by the move, and expected Brady to transfer the funds back to them.
“People were giving to him to build the caucus, not because they liked Bill,” one senator said.
Brady, however, said he plans to spend the money on candidates he likes, on donations to charitable causes, or to fund his own political future. An old campaign finance law would also allow him to spend a portion of the funds on himself.
Brady entered Illinois politics as a House member in 1993, five years before the state outlawed “legal bribery,” the unpopular practice that allowed politicians to spend campaign funds on personal expenses. An aide suggested Brady’s grandfathered campaign account contained more than $60,000 at the time, which he can legally use for his own purposes now that he’s no longer in elected office.
While Brady considers his political future, he’s also fighting off a lawsuit from a south Florida developer who claims Brady owes him more than $60,000 in late rent payments. The suit represents another episode in a long string of money troubles that have stalked Brady throughout his career.
According to court documents filed in Palm Beach County, developer Joe Carosella, president of Delray Place Manager, Inc, says Brady “habitually failed to timely pay rent due under the lease dating back to calendar year 2017.”
Brady and his wife, son, and business partners run a Jimmy John’s franchise out of the storefront location. He acknowledged they stopped paying rent in April, but he blames it on the landlord’s construction work that he says kept customers away.
“He so recklessly redeveloped the project, people didn’t even know we were there,” Brady said.
Staff members who answered the phone at the fast food restaurant said they remained open and busy, delivering sandwiches and serving meals inside throughout the pandemic.
While Brady acknowledges the business was never forced to close operations, he says the sandwich shop suffered utility outages at times, and claimed “people wouldn’t come into the parking lot because their tires would get flat.”
Carosella could not be reached for a comment.
“Unless he comes to his senses, it’s going to be litigated in the court,” Brady said. “We’ll start paying rent once we recover our damages.”
Brady had been in bankruptcy court as recently as last year. The financial woes of his construction businesses were well documented. So when someone from Midwest Electronics Gaming, LLC, a video gaming company, approached Brady with an offer in 2020, he accepted it.
“We did some real estate, and they said, ‘You know, you could help us in this way,’ and I said okay,” he said. “So we did.”
Sources at the Illinois Gaming Board said Brady personally contacted staff at the board to inquire about the company’s license status and payment structure.
“Investigators were concerned licensing Mr. Brady would be against the Ethics Act,” a gaming board source said.
Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the Illinois Gaming Board renewed the company’s video gaming terminal operator license in April of 2019, the month before the state drastically expanded video gaming.
In May of 2019, a report from ProPublica and WBEZ revealed Brady’s financial ties to the video gaming industry. Days later, Brady rose to the floor of the Senate and recused himself from the vote on expanding video gaming profits.
“I will be voting present on this measure,” he said. “I’d like to also indicate that any discussions I’ve had with the leaders or others, I have recused myself from any negotiations.”
However, five months prior, then governor-elect J.B. Pritzker said expanding gaming was Brady’s idea.
“Senator Brady proposed another idea that I think is a pretty good one,” Pritzker said the day before his inauguration, pivoting away from a question about raising the gas tax. “And that’s, you know, we might be able to expand gaming in the state and have that as one of the sources of revenue to pay for our capital.”
Pritzker’s office later said the governor-elect was referring to public comments the Senate Republican Leader had made. A spokesperson said Pritzker did not recall ever discussing video gaming with Brady in person.
In 2018, Brady told WMBD that expanding video gaming into new communities like Peoria or Chicago could provide “additional revenues” that “could provide a capital program.”
On Wednesday, Brady said he did not have any business interest in video gaming at the time of that interview.
“I didn’t have an interest until I filed my statement of economic interest,” he said, referring to some time in early 2019.
Still, several Senate Republicans were unconvinced that his personal profit motives never got mixed up with his official duties as the leader of the caucus.
In the moments leading up to a highly anticipated vote that promised to deliver a casino to the city of Chicago in May of 2020, Brady worked privately to secure guarantees from his members that they would support the final piece of the gaming bill, according to seven Republican senators.
After announcing to his caucus in a closed door meeting that he would abstain from voting on the gaming measure due to a personal conflict of interest, Brady hosted individual members in his office and outlined specific capital infrastructure projects from their home districts that would appear in a revised capital bill, and explained how the taxes from the gaming bill would pay for those projects.
“He’s expected to deliver a certain number of votes,” Senator Dan McConchie (R-Barrington Hills) said that Saturday night.
Five Republicans ended up voting for the revised gaming bill. Each member, even the ones who voted against it, received equal allotments for $3 million worth of capital infrastructure projects in their districts in a separate, but related, capital plan.
“We were very clear that we did not connect capital to gaming,” Brady said on Wednesday.
“There is no expansion of gaming in this bill,” Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) said in May 2020 during debate on the floor.
That’s because the last gaming bill that passed in 2019 had already done that. The Chicago casino project was the final piece to the puzzle, and it failed in the first attempt. It cleared the final hurdle in May of last year.
The casino expansion determines how much the state collects in taxes. The capital bill distributes the funds to pay for “vertical” construction projects, while the motor fuel taxes pay for the “horizontal” projects such as roads and bridges.
After citing his conflict of interest, Brady had assigned Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) as the point person to negotiate for the party on matters related to gaming.
“I think it’s silly that he recuses himself,” Syverson said, who has argued for more lax disclosure laws pertaining to casino contracts. Those disclosures revealed Syverson has a conflict of interest of his own. Ringland Johnson, the construction company contracted to build Rockford’s Hard Rock casino, hired Syverson’s insurance agency.
Syverson said Brady pitched his members on the Chicago casino, “This is the only way capital funds get funded. If capital is important to you, then consider supporting it.”
In May 2019, after encouraging senators to vote for the gas tax increase, Brady said, “I want to thank all the members of the General Assembly, the interest groups from the Chamber of Commerce to transportation groups, and the unions.”
The Chicagoland Operators Union later gave Brady’s political action committee two separate contributions of $57,800. The union’s total contribution of $115,600 was more than seven times larger than the next largest donation to Brady’s PAC.