A corruption trial revealed a #MeToo ethics entanglement for a top Biden adviser


Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen speak onstage at an event called “Women Rule”, in June 2018. Dunn, along with her firm of communications experts, began crisis communication for the Illinois House of Representatives Speaker at the end of that summer regarding sexual harassment allegations and retaliation.

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Anita Dunn and Hilary Rosen speak onstage at “Women Rule”, a June 2018 event. Dunn, along with her firm, began crisis communication for the Illinois House of Representatives Speaker at the end of that summer. The allegations of sexual harassment were a concern.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

A top advisor to President Joe Biden whose communications firm launched a high-profile campaign to assist victims who had suffered sexual harassment, assault and rape, was also paid to advise a powerful Illinois politician at the same time he was being sued. Anita Dunn is widely regarded as a member of President Biden’s inner circle and co-founder of SKDK, a communications firm. She provided crisis communications assistance to Michael Madigan who was then Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives from 2018 until 2019. Dunn’s firm and Dunn earned more than $200,000 from this work, according to disclosures of campaign finance.

Madigan was not accused of sexual misconduct personally, but he was being sued for it by a former member of one of his political committees. That former employee, Alaina Hampton, alleged that Madigan retaliated against her when she reported that her direct supervisor had repeatedly harassed her over text messages.


Chicago Sun-Times


While Dunn was advising Madigan, Hampton received support in her case from Dunn’s firm, which partnered with the anti-harassment charity the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Dunn’s representation of Madigan focused specifically on Hampton’s allegations.

Hampton said Dunn and SKDK's representation of Madigan was not disclosed to her at the time.

“They never told me that they were also working for Michael Madigan and had they disclosed that with me, I would have never applied for legal funding or PR support with them,” Hampton told NPR in an interview.
Reached by phone, Dunn said she was heading into a meeting and told NPR to “just call SKDK on that, thank you,” before hanging up. Michael Czin, a SKDK spokesperson, first defended the firm’s representation of Madigan by saying, “we have a strict internal conflict process.” The former Speaker’s work was done to clear the conflict process, and not just cover up his real problems. The following day SKDK changed its statement. “In retrospect we realize that our decision to work with the then-Speaker Madigan campaign on these issues was an error, given the support Ms. Hampton received from another firm via a separate initiative which we were proud of supporting.” “

We apologize to Ms. Hampton, her allies, and reiterate our support for the survivors community,” concluded the statement. Hampton was even more frustrated by the way she found out about SKDK’s and Dunn’s apparent conflict. The revelation was made during a trial held last month, as part of an ongoing federal corruption probe into Madigan. Two of Madigan’s most trusted aides had been recorded briefly on a wiretap by the FBI discussing Dunn’s work in “crisis communication” for them.

One man recorded on the wiretap spelled her name “D-U.N.N.” A discussion email about Dunn’s and SKDK’s work for Madigan, as well as an email discussing the work of SKDK, was also entered in evidence. The prosecutors never accused Dunn or SKDK of any wrongdoing committed by Madigan and his allies. Chicago Public Media, the

Chicago Sun Times

, and NPR covered the trial extensively. It’s a breach of trust, and it feels betrayed. “

Uma Iyer, a spokeswoman for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund said in a press release: “We were shocked to learn that Speaker Madigan retained SKDK – we had no previous knowledge of this and can imagine how a discovery like this would be deeply upsetting to Miss Hampton. We share her frustration as a group of survivors who work every day to fight for justice. Hampton has been digging through old emails and trying to remember what she told her contacts at SKDK. She said that five years ago, at age 28, when she was going through the harassment case against one the most powerful men of Illinois politics, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund

and SKDK were her allies. I had many of the Illinois political players against me. “

Now, she feels deceived by the very people who thought were her unconditional supporters.

“Through my case, a lot of women have reached out to me for help, and I used to refer them to Time’s Up,” she said. “I feel sick about it.” A spokesperson for SKDK responded to NPR by stating that the information Hampton shared with her contacts at SKDK about her case was never given to the SKDK workers working for Madigan. NPR requested a copy of SKDK’s conflict of interest policies, but they refused to do so. SKDK claimed that the contractor had “worked closely with dozens firms across the country in order to match PR professionals with countless survivors.” The work performed was largely administrative, and not by SKDK employees. The contractor worked for or advised none of SKDK’s other clients. In its revised statement, SKDK clarified that “Ms. Hampton is not a client of SKDK. Hampton rejects SKDK’s claim that it had only minimal contact with her via an independent contractor. She says that Kendra Barkoff Lamy, the managing director at SKDK was copied on emails regarding her case. Barkoff Lamy, according to an archived bio on SKDK’s website at the time Hampton’s case was filed, led SKDK’s work with Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

Anita Dunn and President Joe Biden speak at Camp David, as he prepares to deliver his State of the Union Address in February 2023.

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President Joe Biden talks with Anita Dunn in Camp David, as he prepares to deliver his State of the Union Address in February 2023.

Adam Schultz/The White House

[Dunn]Dunn’s career spans decades and she has been hailed as a trailblazer in politics. She was the communications director at Barack Obama’s White House. She helped the Biden 2020 campaign win and she has praised the administration for placing many women in high-ranking positions. Dunn told C-SPAN in an early interview that the Biden White House was a place where women “rule.” Dunn has been linked to men accused by the media of harassment before. In 2017, Dunn gave Harvey Weinstein unpaid advice on public relations just prior to the publication of investigations into the widespread allegations of sexual assault and misconduct made against Weinstein. SKDK issued a statement at the time stating that Dunn spoke to Weinstein on the request of a friend who was not named. SKDK did not have any relationship with Weinstein. The statement continued, in a cryptic manner, “If Anita is someone you know, you can imagine what she told him.” NPR questioned SKDK about exactly what Dunn said to Weinstein. The firm didn’t respond. Weinstein, who was convicted of rape and assault in New York and California, is now serving a prison term in New York. Halperin was accused of sexual harassment at work two years earlier. An SKDK spokeswoman told CNN that Dunn only participated in Halperin’s book because she wanted to beat Donald Trump. How a #MeToo tale, an Illinois power broker, and a White House adviser are connected

At first of 2018, SKDK started its partnership with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The fund was created in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s allegations, as well as those of many other victims of sexual abuse, harassment and assault. It also helped to fund the legal fees of some survivors. The National Women’s Law Center managed the fund, and handled the legal aspect of Time’s Up. However, they turned to SKDK in order to provide additional support for women who were dealing with media attention regarding their stories of harassment and assault. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund described SKDK as “storytelling support and media relations assistance” in its role within the partnership. This work involved connecting harassment victims with public relations specialists who worked at a discounted rate. The National Women’s Law Center paid many of these PR professionals, who were not SKDK staff.

SKDK boasted about the partnership, on social media that it was “proud to partner with @TIMESUPNOW #TimesUpLegalDefenseFund #TimesUp.”

Around that same time, a #MeToo era sexual harassment scandal began dominating Illinois politics and challenged the political future of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the longest-serving leader of any state house in American history.

Alaina Hampton grew up in Illinois and, in her own telling, began working on political campaigns with a lot more idealism about politics than she has now. Her experiences working on Madigan’s committees has changed her perspective. Hampton made public her allegations in February 2018 that she had been harassed by a supervisor for months over text messages while working for one of these political committees called Friends of Madigan. Hampton claimed in a civil lawsuit that she reported the harassment multiple times, including to Madigan. Hampton claimed that although Hampton’s supervisor eventually was fired, her initial report of harassment had been ignored or minimized. She claimed that retaliation came in the form a blacklisting of her for jobs with other political campaigns. She sued several committees affiliated with Madigan including Friends of Madigan. Madigan denied wrongdoing. Madigan denied wrongdoing.

Behind the scenes, according to emails later released at the perjury trial of Madigan’s longtime chief of staff, Timothy Mapes, Madigan’s allies worried that the scandal could loosen his grip on power.

“If we want to protect and save MJM

we cannot play punchy bags above the belt. In February 2018, Michael McClain wrote to Mapes, a lobbyist who is widely regarded as a Madigan confidant. McClain wrote Mapes again in June of that year, saying that it was clear that “we” did not have a plan to assert ourselves nor did we know how to deal with this problem. They began interviewing several crisis management companies.

“We landed on SKDKnickerbocker. Anita Dunn is the lead. McClain wrote Mapes that she met us and the Speaker to lay out a plan. The S liked it, and he hired the woman.” McClain referred to House Speaker Madigan by the nickname “The S” in court records. In the weeks following the payment, Madigan published an op ed in the

Chicago Trib

in which he claimed to be fighting workplace harassment at the Illinois state Capitol. In the op-ed, he said: “I have made this a personal goal to tackle this issue and correct past errors.” “I wish I had done it sooner.”

In response NPR’s question about SKDK working for Madigan, SKDK initially stated, “As a firm policy, we don’t help sexual harassers.” We fight for survivors, and we work to change the system in order to eliminate harassment from workplaces. Anita was willing to assist Speaker Madigan in taking accountability publicly so that he could begin to fix his workplace. “Meanwhile Hampton’s case kept making headlines. Joanna Klonsky is a Chicago-based consultant who helped Hampton connect with Time’s Up and Tina Tchen, one of its founders. She also shared information about the case with SKDK beginning around August 2018. Klonsky helped Hampton to connect with Time’s Up, Tina Tchen and the founder of the organization. She also shared information with SKDK starting around August 2018.
Hampton said that she and Klonsky didn’t ask SKDK and Time’s Up if there was a conflict in interest with the Madigan case.

“It never even occurred to me,” Klonsky. It would have been unthinkable that they were working for the opposite side. Shelly Kulwin was one of Hampton’s lawyers on the case. He told NPR that he had “no indication” they were working for Madigan.

Hampton said the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund

ultimately provided her with approximately $60,000 to support her legal case, which she was obligated to repay if she received any money from a possible settlement.

The group also paid Klonsky to continue helping Hampton with public relations. Klonsky stated that the support of Time’s Up was “incredibly validating” and helped them feel more confident. It will be harder for anyone to try to harm us if we have Time’s Up on our side. Hampton and Klonsky stated that they regularly updated their contacts with Time’s Up, and SKDK on the progress of the case. Friends of Madigan paid SKDK “media consulting” until the end of September 2019 for “media consultation”. According to campaign records, Madigan’s committee has paid SKDK over $200,000.

NPR questioned Madigan’s lawyers about their knowledge of SKDK’s involvement in Hampton’s case. They declined to comment. In an email, former Madigan chief staff Timothy Mapes wrote: “Sorry I cannot answer your questions because I was not involved in these discussions.” The evidence in Mapes’s trial revealed that he had been recorded on a wiretap discussing Dunn’s representation and also received emails about SKDK’s work for Madigan during 2018. Michael McClain didn’t respond to NPR when they asked him for comment. Hampton announced in November 2019 that she had settled her lawsuit against Madigan’s political groups. Hampton received $75,000 after repaying a loan from the

Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Hampton’s lawyers received additional money for their work in the case. Madigan’s committees of political influence did not acknowledge wrongdoing as is typical in civil settlements. The Illinois Legislative Inspection General also found that Hampton was subjected a hostile workplace, and the man who she accused of harassing her apologized. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund said on social media, “We are proud to support Alaina in this case.” In a statement made to NPR this week, SKDK spokesperson stated, “We sympathize with Madigan’s aide’s survivor and are glad that she was able to settle her case. “In reality, the federal corruption probe was a greater threat to Madigan than the sexual assault case. He lost his seat in the Illinois House of Representatives in 2021. After being forced to resign, he was then indicted for bribery, racketeering, and other charges. Madigan denies all wrongdoing, and will be tried in 2024. An Echo of broader Time’s up problemsThe concerns over conflict of interest involving SKDK and Time’sUp in many ways echo a number of revelations following the sexual harassment scandal which forced former New York governor Andrew Cuomo from office. Cuomo denied wrongdoing. Reports also showed that prominent Time’s Up figures had helped Cuomo respond to the allegations. A co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund was one of SKDK’s partners during this time. He also participated in discussions about how to help Cuomo’s response. The leader of Human Rights Campaign, an influential LGBTQ+ rights group, also lost his position based on evidence that he helped the Cuomo team respond to the allegations.Time’s Up Nowsubsequently went through what the organization called a “major reset,” before eventually ceasing operations earlier this year. The National Women’s Law Center administers Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund but has severed their relationship with SKDK due to conflict of interest issues stemming from Cuomo’s revelations. Hampton was asked by NPR what she would tell Anita Dunn after learning about her work representing Michael Madigan.

“I don’t even know Anita Dunn and I hope I will never,” Hampton replied. Hampton said that she had never met Anita Dunn and hoped to never meet her. “Hampton stated that she does not believe SKDK’s apology is “enough” to “repair the damage they caused.” NPR reported that she is most concerned about the possibility that other victims of abuse and harassment will take her experience with SKDK into consideration and be hesitant to come forward.