Eight-term Illinois Congressman Daniel Lipinski, who lost his seat in this year’s primary, gave more than $17,000 in campaign money to Catholic schools and churches over the past four years.
While the donations comprise a small amount of his overall campaign expenses, they emphasize his support of the pro-life movement and his religion.
The donations are legal because Lipinski’s campaign money is technically a private fund, said political science doctor Kent Redfield.
“On the issue of separation of church and state, if it were public money, then it would be a question of whether this were a proper expenditure of public money,” Redfield said.
The Illinois Constitution states that public funds may only be spent on public purposes, he said.
“Lipinski is no longer in office, so you can’t argue that the contributors didn’t intend for him to spend the money in that way,” Redfield said. “It really is private money. That’s the distinction.”
Charitable donations coming from campaign funds are permitted by the Federal Elections Commission, so long as the amount donated will not be “used for purposes that personally benefit the candidate.”
Lipinski represents Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes a portion of Chicago’s southwest side, as well as southern and western suburbs of the city. Counties partially covered by the district include Cook, Will, and DuPage. Before Lipinski took office in 2005, his father, Bill, had represented the district since 1983.
Expenditure data from the Federal Election Commission shows Lipinski spent $2.5 million in the 2017-2018 election cycle and $2.1 million so far in 2019-2020.
He has $1,626.84 remaining on hand, according to those records. Though he lost his seat in March, Illinois law allows for Lipinski to continue to spend leftover campaign money on approved electoral or non-electoral expenditures.
The law does not cover personal spending of this money.
“Lipinski has money, he’s lost his seat, he’s serving until January, but he’s got money in his campaign fund and he can continue to spend out of it just like he’s done in the past, on these non-electoral sorts of things,” said Redfield.
Redfield said campaign-funded donations are “fairly common” on both state and Congressional levels.
“The reason that candidates do it is, essentially, building goodwill.” he said. Redfield suggests that an incumbent, such as Lipinski, would want to be viewed in a positive and nonpartisan way. “It’s goodwill, but it’s also smart politics to do this.”
Lipinski, a Democrat, narrowly lost the primary election in March to his opponent Marie Newman by a margin of 2.7%, with Newman’s votes totalling at 49,098, and Lipinski’s at 46,315.
Newman, who is now running against Republican Mike Fricilone in the general election, made women’s reproductive rights an asset of her campaign in both the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 cycles. Thus far, Newman has outspent Fricilone by $2.2 million. A Republican has not represented the district since 1975.
Lipinski’s campaign expenditures revealed a strategy heavily dependent on advertising, media and strategy for 2019-2020 compared to previous years.
Federal Election expenditure reports disclose that during the 2017-2018 election cycle, nearly one-third of Lipinski’s $37,625 in total donation expenses were directed toward Catholic institutions within his district, located in Chicago’s southwest side and suburbs.
This number rose by 5% the following year. But between cycles, the percentage of donations that comprised total expenditures dropped by 63%, as campaign spending went to advertising.
As general expenditures decreased between cycles, the 2019-2020 finance report showed fewer donations. In 2019-2020, Lipinski paid significantly more for advertising than in the previous election, with 57 unique recipients falling under the advertising category. The top three recipients of the campaign’s advertising payouts were the design and printing company Nine2Seven, WGN Radio and the broadcasting corporation Univision Management.
In 2020, Lipinski’s campaign expenditures revealed compensation for field services to a team of 207 recipients, $36,000 in expenditures for strategic consulting services and over $140,000 in direct mail services.
Marie Newman’s expenses showed that her campaign outspent Lipinski by $42,858, especially in the areas of media and fundraising strategy. Newman also outraised Lipinski in fundraising by roughly $700,000.
In the 2020 cycle, even after reducing donation costs from the previous year, Lipinski donated significantly more money than Newman had. While Lipinski’s donations were consolidated to 36 unique organizations, the FEC reports Newman’s single $175 donation to Schakowsky For Congress.
Lipinski has been open about his status as a practicing Catholic and a pro-life advocate. He attended Saint Ignatius College Prep, a private Catholic institution in Chicago’s West Loop. Press releases by the Lipinski Congressional Office said he had signed congressional resolutions to acknowledge “Catholic Schools Week” for 14 consecutive years.
Lipinski serves as the co-chair of the congressional pro-life caucus. He has cosponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 5939) which restricts federal funding towards abortion procedures, and the Protect Life Act (HR 5111), which prohibits funding towards any healthcare plan that covers abortion services. In June of 2013, Lipinski was one of six Democrats in the House to vote for a nationwide, 20-week abortion ban.
Throughout both cycles, the largest donations to Catholic parishes and schools were allocated to the following institutions:
- Saint Symphorosa Parish (Southwest Side of Chicago) – $3,000
- Lewis University (Romeoville, IL) – $2,000
- Saint Daniel The Prophet (Southwest Side of Chicago) – $2,000
- Saint Cletus (La Grange, IL) – $1,400
- Saint Catherine’s Men’s Club (Oak Lawn, IL) – $1,250
- Brother Rice High School (South Side of Chicago) – $800
- Saint Catherine’s Men’s Club (Oak Lawn, IL) – $1,250
Federal Election Commision data also show donations to pro-life organizations. Before Lipinski’s’s primary upset, he had been serving in the district since 2005. His father preceded him in the seat for 30 years.
Across cycles, funding that was donated towards pro-life organizations was allocated to “Aid for Women” and “Illinois Right To Life.”
An Illinois Right to Life representative stated that donation funding is allocated to assets such as: handout pamphlets and brochures, video production for the “Heart 2 Heart” program, which presents pro-life media to high schools, a pro-life training tour that visits libraries and schools, as well as sponsoring the March For Life, which occurs annually in Washington D.C.
“Abortion advocacy groups poured millions into my opponent’s campaign. If I had simply changed my position on abortion, there probably wouldn’t have been a contest,” Lipinski wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal after losing the primary election. “I defended my pro-life position, which is rooted in both my Catholic faith and science.”
In September 2018, he signed an amicus brief that called for the re-examination of Roe V. Wade.
Aside from the 166 Republican Representatives that signed the brief, Lipinski was one of two democrats who signed; the other being Collin Peterson from Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District.
Lipinski’s 15-year term will end in January of 2021.