O’Hare Contractor Lines Pockets of Three Aldermen

Our analysis of state campaign financial disclosure records shows a single vendor for the City of Chicago has made contributions to three Aldermen that appear to exceed city campaign contribution limits by nearly $40,000.

Universal Security Corp has been contracted by the City to provide unarmed security services at Chicago’s O’Hare airport since 2007. Mark Lundgren, a fifteen-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, is President and CEO of Universal Security. In 2012, Lundgren formed ML Management LLC, which owns the property listed as Universal Security’s headquarters, according to Cook County property records.

Between Lundgren’s personal campaign contributions and those from his corporate entities, he has donated to three Aldermen in excess of annual contribution limits. Since 2014, Lundgren has donated $36,700 to Ald. Michele Smith, who is currently Chair of the Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight, $14,400 to Ald. Walter Burnett Jr, who is reportedly exploring a run for Secretary of State, and $5,000 to Ald. Jim Gardiner.

The city’s “pay to play” ordinance limits city contractors to an annual contribution maximum of $1,500 to a single candidate. Based on the campaigns’ disclosure records and the applicable statute, it appears the donations in excess of campaign finance limits total $27,700 to Smith, $8,400 to Burnett, and $3,500 to Gardiner.

Campaign contributions from Mark Lundgren and his corporate entities to Aldermen Smith, Burnett, and Gardiner (Source: https://illinoissunshine.org/)

Lundgren made an additional $20,400 in donations between 2012 and 2016 to Smith’s political organization at the time, 43rd Ward Democrats. These contributions are subject to different rules and would require a deeper analysis to determine if any contribution limits were violated.

In some instances donations directly from Universal Security exceeded the $1,500 limit, for example, these donations to Burnett of $2,500 in September, 2019 and $5,000 in 2016. It’s unclear why these weren’t readily identified by the receiving campaigns. In 2018, on the same day Universal Security donated $1,500 to Smith, Lundgren personally donated $5,600 to her campaign. On his personal donation he listed his title and employer as President of Universal Security, making the connection clear.

In other cases Lundgren obfuscated his donations through ML Management, such as this donation of $5,000 to Gardiner. At the time, this was the only corporate donation Gardiner had received in excess of $1,500, which is what originally drew our attention to Lundgren’s donations.

While public records show refunds from Smith and Burnett to other donors, there is no indication that any of these Aldermen have refunded any portion of Lundgren’s donations. We made Gardiner aware of this improper donation via email on October 18th, requesting comment after we published this thread, yet it appears he has still not acted to refund the excess contribution of $3,500.

The ordinance makes it clear that entities under “common control”, such as the same owner, board of directors, or operating out of the same address will be treated as affiliated entities and subject to the single contribution limit. A list of contractors subject to these limits, which includes Universal Security, is published by the City every month.

Both the recipient and donor in violation of the ordinance could face penalties up to three times the amount of each improper contribution. Earlier this week, the Chicago Board of Ethics fined Ald. Carrie Austin $145,500 for the same type of violation. The City of Chicago has paid Universal Security over $96 million since the contract started in 2007, $9 million of that in 2020.

Lundgren has faced controversy and criticism before. In 2007, Mayor Daley was criticized for replacing a long-time union contractor with Universal Security, a non-union firm, in a move seen by some as political retaliation against SEIU Local 1. Lundgren again came under fire in 2016 after terminating at least a half dozen employees at O’Hare in retaliation for their efforts to unionize.

Lundgren’s other contributions which do not appear to violate campaign finance laws include: $5,000 to Tammy Wendt, recently elected to the Cook County Board of Review, $1,000 each to Ald. Debra Silverstein and Ald. Matt O’Shea, and $1,000 to Joe Duplechin, former candidate for 19th District IL State Rep.

Unrelated to Universal Security, it appears Burnett accepted a donation from another contractor W.E. O’Neil Construction for $5,000. Around the same time, Smith also received a $5,000 contribution from W.E. O’Neil, though records show she refunded $3,500. There is no record of Burnett refunding any portion of this contribution.

When reached for comment, Ald. Burnett replied, “I’ll look into it usually the board of ethics let us know then we send the money back. If they say I do then I will.”

Ald. Gardiner had no comment and Ald. Smith did not respond immediately.