Illinois’ 7th Congressional District has historically been a solidly been a blue district for a long time. The district has not had Republican representative in 50 years.
Thus, U.S. Congressman Danny Davis, Democrat, of District 7 has occupied his seat in the House of Representatives for over 20 years. Davis was re-elected to his seat on earlier this month – defeating his opponent Republican Craig Cameron by more than 80 percent of the votes.
And each year, Davis has one of the lowest campaign spending and contribution amounts of the Illinois representatives, spending anywhere from $300,000 to $600,000 and raising as little as $200,000 and as much as $600,000.
Davis’ top disbursements for the 2017-2018 cycle were to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, J. Pope Consulting, LLC, the U.S. Postmaster, campaigner Jonathan Roberts and campaigner/personal friend Rickey Hendon. In total, he earned $282,733.71 and spent $334,602.34.
His top disbursements for the 2015-2016 cycle were very similar. He paid money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, J. Pope Consulting, LLC, Verizon Wireless, senior adviser Ms. Tumia Romero and campaigner/personal friend Rickey Hendon. In total, he earned $534,812.32 and spent $491,312.98.
Brandon Quinn is the Outreach Manager for Open Secrets, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to provide information about politicians’ campaign finance to voters. The group analyzes information from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Secretary of the Senate.
“Someone like Danny Davis, who has been around for a while, has built up a considerable war chest,” Quinn said. “He is probably using money from campaigns that he had before.”
There is little information for Davis’ previous opponent, Jeffrey Lee, the Republican nominee for District 7, or for any Davis’ opponents dating back until 2004.
“He hasn’t really had any opponents that raised credible amounts of money so he’s just been able to raise up to $600,00 and spend enough to be competitive,” Quinn said. “In a district that’s so solidly blue like this, even with the official nominee for the other party, there is no information because a lot of times they raise no money.”
According to OpenSecrets, Davis had an estimated net worth of $257,506 in 2015, which was the last calculated net worth for the congressman. This was far below the average net worth of a House representative of $888,000.
In 2018, Davis’ largest expenditure was $70,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in which he spent $20,000 for a “Caucus donation” and another $50,000 for a “donation.”
Davis also spent $7,200 on Mario’s Butcher Shop and later $2,400 on Marrio’s Butcher Shop, demonstrating the inaccuracies in the documented spending of 2018.
Davis did not respond to several calls seeking comment for this story.
Several disbursements from his 2018 FEC report were also listed without descriptions.
Davis spent $1,100 on Sugar Collaborations, $300 for Mary Baldwin and $300 for Women of Steele, and did not list what for.
In 2016, Davis’ second largest expenditure was $86,305 for J. Pope Consulting, LLC.: $68,075 on “fundraising consultant,” $3,605 on “fundraiising consultant” and $3,710 on “fund raising consultant.”
Pope Consulting, LLC. is “a boutique minority-owned political and organization fundraising consulting firm that provides its clients with the expert advice needed to exceed their fundraising goals,” according to their website.
“I wouldn’t say that that is common, but [these inaccuracies] are also not something that never happens,” Quinn said. “There are definitely some flaws in the system.”
In 2016, Davis also spent $4,000 at the Verizon Center, $2,000 for “fundraiser/box seats” and $2,000 for “rental of facility.” He also oddly spent $348 at Vitners for “potato chips.”
The 2016 campaign year is full of event more disbursements without descriptions.
Davis’ third largest disbursement was $18,043.45 to Verizon Wireless including $14,728.25 for “wireless service,” and another $3,315.71 for unlisted use.
Davis paid Jackie Greer $1,140 in 2016, $500 for “catering” and $640 for unlisted use. He also paid Wallas Davis $1,100 similarly with $800 for “catering” and $300 for unlisted use.
Davis also paid Larry Nelson $950 in 2016, $300 for “contribution,” $500 for “distributing ballots and signs” and $150 for unlisted use.
He also paid Gayia Eswaldo $400 for an unknown reason and $200 for the Village of Maywood for an unknown reason in 2016.
Each year, congressmen must submit a report of how they’ve spent their campaign money. According to the FEC, the use of campaign finances for personal use is prohibited. The website says, “If the expense would exist even in the absence of the candidacy or even if the officeholder were not in office, then the personal use ban applies.”
Politicians are allowed to spend their receipts on charitable donations, the transfer of campaign assets, gifts (outside of the candidate’s family) and the candidate’s salary, which must be paid by the principal campaign committee.
Expenditures like meal expenses, travel expenses, vehicle expenses, legal expenses or mixed use (reimbursing within 30 days of the spending) are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Leaving a disbursement without a description on a FEC report makes it very difficult to determine whether the spending was personal or for the campaign. Even worse, several of the spending descriptions are vague.There is no way of knowing a candidate’s spending at a restaurant was for personal use or a fundraiser or charity. The same goes transportation, credit card spending, phone bills and payments to people.
Some congressmen use this system to spend campaign money for personal use. Last month, Rep. Duncan Hunter, who used campaign money for vacations, school tuition, dental work and theatre tickets.
This had a mixed reaction for voters from Illinois’ 7th congressional district.
Miles Powers-Huang, a voter from District 7, said, “Oak Park is very liberal. It’s the type of place where people will automatically vote for the Democrat no matter what he or she plans to do in office.”
Powers-Huang said that he would not be surprised if he found out his politician was using campaign money for personal use. “I know that that is the law, but I’m sure there are ways to get around that,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised, but I would be disappointed.”
He added finding this out would not dissuade him from supporting the candidate.
Daniel O’Sullivan, another voter from District 7, said “I usually vote more for the party I align with. Usually my ideas align with theirs…I do also do research on the opposing party too to see if my vote would be better with them.”
He said that how a politician spends money is less important to him as opposed to other social or political issues.
“I think it would definitely reflect poorly on them. It shows that they’re irresponsible,” O’Sullivan said. “I would still consider voting for them because I think that would just be one facet of looking at them as a person and what other sort of things they support.”
Grace Johnson, another voter from the 7th district, felt the opposite.
“I wouldn’t want to vote for them if they weren’t publicly sharing what the money is used for. It disrespects the political system itself, and if they’re pulling strings will something as simple as that, then that means they’re probably pulling strings with other things.”