Eileen O’Neill Burke raises $800,000+ in a day after busting fundraising caps

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

A day after she busted the caps in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s race for the Democratic nomination, retired Judge Eileen O’Neill Burke raked in just over $836,000 from 13 donors, all largely leaders in the city’s business world.

O’Neill Burke had already entered the home stretch of the campaign with a fundraising advantage over the other Democrat in the March 19 primary, Clayton Harris III. Including the new batch of donations, she has received $1.9 million since late July. Earlier this week, Burke and her husband crossed the threshold that allowed unlimited contributions to flow into her coffers.

Others in the race — Harris and Republican candidate Bob Fioretti — can also now collect uncapped contributions as well above the $6,900 limit for individuals.

With the caps off, Burke brought in four donations of $100,000 each from Donald Wilson Jr., founder of trading firm DRW Holdings; Richard Melman, founder and chairman of the local restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You; Craig Duchossois of the investment firm Duchossois Group; and Citadel Chief Operating Officer Gerald Beeson. Some are repeat donors who had given her smaller amounts earlier in the campaign, and some are also donors to Republican candidates at the local and federal level.

O’Neill Burke’s biggest contributor is Daniel O’Keefe, a managing director of Artisan Partners, a global investment management firm. He gave $236,000 in this latest round of donations. O’Keefe has not been a major donor in Illinois, but has given thousands to Republicans in national races in recent years, including to U.S. Senate candidates Herschel Walker, Dr. Mehmet Oz and J.D. Vance in 2022 and Kelly Loeffler in 2020.

In a statement, Harris said his opponent’s campaign is “being bankrolled by dangerous, right wing donors. … As we stare down the barrel of a potential second Trump administration, the last thing we need are local leaders who are beholden to extremists who don’t share our values.”

Though she told party members she has voted in every Democratic primary since the age of 18, and had previously been slated by the county’s Democratic party for judicial seats and sought their endorsement for this race, accusations about O’Neill Burke’s ties to Republicans have dogged her since the early days of her campaign.

In a statement, a spokeswoman said O’Neill Burke was “proud to have a diverse coalition of supporters” that includes several trade unions and elected officials such as U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, Comptroller Susana Mendoza, many attorneys, “and everyday families who want a safer, more just Cook County … we’re excited by the growing momentum behind her unmatched experience and vision.”

Harris is the “corporate lobbyist” and “political insider,” the statement said, and any suggestion that she is beholden to her donors “is insulting and sexist.”

Harris was previously a lobbyist for Lyft and CH2M Hill and is a longtime lecturer at the University of Chicago after working in several public sector posts at the city and state. His largest donors include progressive unions such as SEIU, the Chicago Teachers Union, and local liberal megadonor Fred Eychaner. In all, he has raised just over $830,000.

Melman, his son RJ Melman and Duchossois were among the hosts of a Jan. 29 fundraiser for O’Neill Burke at Shaw’s Crab House. Melman has donated to Chicago Democrats for decades — including Kim Foxx in 2016 — but has also given to Republicans, including state’s attorney candidate Pat O’Brien in 2020, according to state records. Beeson — who has also contributed to local Republican and Democratic candidates over the years, but skewed Republican in federal donations — was also an O’Brien donor in 2020.

Through a spokesperson, Melman declined to comment.

Beeson’s boss, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, complained of Chicago crime before moving his company’s headquarters to Miami. In a statement, Beeson said “Justice Burke has an extraordinary record as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge. There is no candidate better qualified to reduce gun violence and make Cook County safer for everyone.”

aquig@chicagotribune.com