Dog Gone: Oak Brook Leader Returning Donation From Hot Dog Honcho

Earlier this year, Oak Brook Village President John Craig insisted “there is not a cent of money in my campaign fund from a bar or a restaurant, nor will there ever be.”

That remark came during the Jan. 25 village board meeting—a day after the Better Government Association revealed that Craig had accepted, and then returned, a $10,000 campaign donation from Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse.

The BGA’s disclosure was significant because Craig doubles as Oak Brook’s liquor commissioner—and months before the October donation, he’d signed off on a liquor license allowing Gibsons to open for business in the western suburb.

Now comes word that a Gibsons investor also contributed to Craig, raising another conflict of interest question.

Dick Portillo, who runs the Chicago-area’s popular Portillo’s hot dog/Italian beef chain, gave $500 to Craig’s campaign fund around the same time the Gibsons check was cut, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Reached on the phone by the BGA, Craig said he didn’t know Portillo was part of the Gibsons ownership group—even though Portillo’s name is listed on the village’s liquor license application. Now that Craig is “becoming aware of that,” he said he “will return the $500 immediately.”

The donation was tied to “a little cocktail party that he attended, it had nothing to do with business,” Craig added.

Dick Portillo told the BGA the donation had nothing to do with Gibsons—and everything to do with helping a solid candidate and “great guy.”

“He didn’t solicit me or anything, I’ve been in this community for a long time, I have an office here, my grandkids go to school here…I just think he’s the best man for the job,” said Portillo about Craig.

He added: “Public service really takes a significant contribution and sacrifice…if I can get qualified people in office, I’m happy to do so…I’m a resident of Oak Brook and as a result I really have a personal interest in the leadership.”

Portillo noted that as an investor in the Oak Brook Gibsons, “I have no say in the management or other activities” of the restaurant. Documents filed with the village as part of the Gibsons liquor license application list Portillo and his wife as a “Class A Member” with no voting rights.

(Separately, the Portillo Restaurant Group has offices in Oak Brook, but no eateries or liquor licenses in the western suburb, Craig said.)

Portillo said he hopes this topic and line of questioning by the BGA “is not politically motivated by the other party.”

Craig is running against Oak Brook Plan Commission member Gopal Lalmalani in the April 5 election.

For the record: The BGA is a non-profit non-partisan group, and does not endorse nor back political candidates.

This story was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Dog Gone: Oak Brook Leader Returning Donation From Hot Dog Honcho

  1. Karen

    The job of the Liquor Commissioner is to read the applications, go over them with the Village Clerk and then have the material prepared for discussion with the Board of Trustees. Did he not read the application?

    He’s also received money from William Gothard – – – likely zoning change applicant. LOTS of money from the village attorney, too!

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