SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Public campaign records illustrate how former state Senator Sam McCann spent tens of thousands of dollars on swanky hotels, fine dining, gas reimbursements, and specialty retail shops. Court records detail how badly he may have needed the money. Taken together, the documents may offer some clues as to what federal investigators could be looking for as they examine McCann’s past.
“I’ve never declared bankruptcy,” McCann said in April, “but I’ve had some trouble.”
Court records filed in 2016 show McCann defaulted on his $160,000 mortgage for a home in Florida. That property was later sold at a foreclosure auction. His construction companies previously owed more than $200,000 in tax liens to the state and federal government. Credit card companies sued McCann in an attempt to reclaim almost $20,000 in debt.
Before he left the Senate to launch a third party bid for governor, McCann filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against Senate Republican leadership to ensure he wouldn’t forfeit his share of state taxpayer funding — money he can use to reimburse himself for mileage and pay for office staff.
“If they want to cut me off from services, then they need to figure out how to divvy up the taxpayer funds so I can adequately represent my district,” McCann said at the time, though he acknowledged there was no reason to believe his staff would not be paid for their work.
Now, federal prosecutors are looking into how he spent those taxpayer funds, and could also be looking into his campaign account.
In February, the U.S. Attorney from Illinois’ Central District ordered the Secretary of the Illinois Senate to hand over all of McCann’s salary information, tax documents, bank records, mileage reimbursements, per diem payments, and emails spanning his three terms in office. The grand jury subpoena also sought all records of any payments the state made to McCann’s Senate staffers.
McCann did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but a detailed review of his campaign accounts show how frequently he used his political committee to make questionable purchases.
‘McCann for Illinois’ spent $22,142 at Best Buy, $24,659 at Wal-Mart, $61,893 at B&H Photo. McCann used his campaign committee to shop at Smoothie King, Texas Roadhouse, Cooper’s Hawk Winery, and Top Shelf Liquor under the category of “public relations.” In 2011, McCann spent $1,085 at men’s specialty clothing store Joseph A. Bank and labeled the expense “promotional items.”
“You can’t buy clothing,” State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich explained. “You can’t pay your mortgage on your personal property. You can purchase a vehicle if it’s going to be used primarily for your campaign. Your mileage reimbursements have to be for only what you use it for campaign purposes.”
McCann’s mileage reimbursements to himself exceed $36,000 in the last two years alone — 17 times more than the average American spends on gasoline. McCann has defended the high mileage reimbursements, claiming his district is larger than most elected officials. However, McCann’s campaign spent more on gas in one year than downstate Senator Andy Manar’s campaign — whose district is comparable in size — spent on gas in the last 8 years combined.
McCann’s campaign committee spent a total of $116,917 on gas or mileage reimbursements to himself since 2011. For the first time in his campaign’s existence, McCann paid his wife $9,076 in late 2018 for “expenses” and “consulting.”
The candidate who campaigned under the “Conservative Party” banner used his campaign account to spend $30,774 on hotels, including at Chicago’s Trump International Hotel and Palmer House Hilton, two of most luxurious hotels in the city.
McCann’s campaign account now sits nearly empty with less than $60,000 in it. However, the new campaign committee for the ‘Conservative Party of Illinois,’ which McCann controls, has more than $350,000 in cash on hand.
The most recent campaign expense documents filed late Monday night show that new account, which McCann opened in late 2018, spent $910 at Scheels in Springfield in February, another $2,123 at B&H Photo in March, and lists six separate trips to the same Carlinville Mexican restaurant in a span of four weeks. The restaurant is a 15-minute drive from McCann’s house.
While campaign committees for candidates and parties do have some leeway to make purchases, Dietrich cautions “you can’t use your campaign fund for personal expenditures.”