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Truth Test: Did Nikki Budzinski ‘cash in’ as a political consultant?

Nikki Budzinski, a Democrat running for office in Illinois' 13th congressional district.

CHICAGO — A recent report from the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan watchdog group, called congressional candidate Nikki Budzinski into question for ‘cashing in’ as a political consultant.

Budzinski is a Democrat running in Illinois’ 13th congressional district against Republican Regan Deering.

“We looked at a powerful government official, state government official, who welcomed and had relationships with a lobbyist while she was in state government, and then…took a very quick $82,000 payday from that state lobbyist,” David Jackson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and co-author of the BGA report, told me.

“The official in question was Nikki Budzinski,” Jackson went on to say. “She was a top senior adviser to Governor JB Pritzker. And the lobbyist (was) Julie Curry.” 

In total, Jackson said Budzinski, in 2020, collected more than $500,000 in consulting and other fees after leaving her job with the governor’s office.

“Budzinski, who briefed the governor on gaming, also forwarded to Curry information shared among the governor’s top staffers on the gaming expansion bill shortly before it was voted on in 2019,” Jackson wrote in the BGA article. “Two of Curry’s clients were in the gaming industry – the U.S. sports betting company DraftKings, and local gaming executive Rick Heidner…”

While Budzinski’s prior work isn’t illegal, Jackson said it was still important to investigate.

“Our job as journalists is to bring forth information that citizens might need as they make decisions about their daily lives,” Jackson said, “and we felt this was salient information.”

Former Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, a Democrat, said the report shows how state law should be strengthened.

“She (Budzinski) looks like she’s trying to follow the law as it is,” Simon, who’s also an assistant professor of law at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, told me. “And the way I see it is, it shows us that we ought to improve the law.”

Budzinski’s campaign manager, Josh Roesch, defended the congressional candidate in an email to BGA.

“Nikki has always taken state and federal ethics laws very seriously and will continue to do so if elected to Congress,” Roesch stated. “After Nikki left government, she was never a lobbyist, never registered as a state or federal lobbyist, and she complied with all ethics laws.”

A new law does require disclosure when a Statehouse lobbyist hires a non-lobbying consultant. At the time, though, the law didn’t apply to Budzinski.

According to Mark Maxwell of KSDK, Budzinski lists her assets and investment portfolio in the range of $700,000 and $1.9 million. 

Meanwhile, Budzinski’s opponent, Regan Deering, lists her net worth between $35 million and $142 million. Deering is the granddaughter of Dwayne Andreas, former chairman and CEO of Archer-Daniels-Midland.

“Nikki has spent millions of dollars calling me an out-of-touch heiress and yet, she made her own millions working for politicians and special interest groups,” Deering said in a statement.

Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin

Picture of Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin is a politics reporter at Illinois Public Media. He's focusing on elections across the state, particularly the 13th and 15th congressional districts and the gubernatorial race. Malkin studied Politics and Communications at Ithaca College, where he was a nightly newscaster and reporter for WICB. From 2020 to 2021, he was a reporting fellow at the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. You can send a tip, recommendation, or note to hmalkin@illinois.edu.

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