Kane official says no pay to play but banks big bucks from vendors
By James Fuller
A comparison of companies that received big checks from Kane County in 2009 shows similarities to companies that cut big checks to county board Chairman Karen McConnaughay’s campaign fund in 2009.
McConnaughay, whose post is not up for election this year, said there’s no “pay to play” going on, and she’d welcome further campaign finance reform in Illinois.
At least one county board member said he doesn’t like how it looks to the public for any county board member to take money from people or companies the county does business with.
More than $17.5 million in county funds went to 43 companies and firms that donated nearly $43,000 to McConnaughay’s war chest in 2009. Those donations helped pay back $40,000 worth of a $60,000 loan McConnaughay and her husband gave to her campaign in 2008. It also chipped in for the $27,000 cost of a consultant team that works to raise even more campaign money for McConnaughay.
A total of $2,000 from McConnaughay’s fund also went to Jean Weems for “campaign officer support.” Weems is a county board employee with a taxpayer-funded salary of nearly $70,000.
McConnaughay said she realizes some people may think the donations look bad, but that’s one of the reasons she voluntarily removed herself from the county’s vendor selection process. As chairman, McConnaughay only votes in the case of a tie on the board. She said she doesn’t sit in on county staff meetings where vendors are selected.
McConnaughay welcomed anyone to look up her campaign contributions and compare them to the county’s vendor list. She said the county is moving toward more transparency and has posted all the vendor contract payments on the county’s Web site.
County board member Jim Mitchell said scrutiny begins with board members themselves. It’s not enough to just direct the public to a Web site, he said.
“One of the things that really bothers me very much is people who take campaign contributions from employees of the county, people doing business with the county or people who they have voted to approve zoning changes for,” Mitchell said. “Whether or not it affects the vote, I don’t know, but I think it sends a bad message for government.”
Mitchell said he’d favor the county board passing some sort of ethics reform that prevents such contributions or at least makes people more visibly accountable.
“If you take this kind of money, people need to know,” Mitchell said. “So if you really believe you should be able to take money from people whose contracts you vote on, you should stand up and say it. If they’re not ashamed, why don’t they publicly say what they took when we vote on the contracts?”
McConnaughay does believe people and companies should have the right to give money to political campaigns.
“Those folks who are donating have First Amendment rights, too,” McConnaughay said. “But if a vendor gives me a $20,000 contribution, you should worry about that. That’s why in this state we need to have consistent rules, top to bottom, to provide that accountability.”
The comment is in light of recent attempts at campaign ethics reform in Illinois that did not include new limits for contributions by the state’s legislative leadership or extend to all levels of government. McConnaughay said she has imposed her own rules on her campaign coffers that refuse any donations from a county vendor in hefty amounts such as the $20,000 in her example.
“The challenge here is protecting First Amendment rights, balanced with rules, boundaries and procedures that are applied across the board and really make sure people are behaving appropriately when they are campaigning,” McConnaughay said. “Illinois has been a disclosure state. We’ve said we’ll make all the information public, and as a result, there are no rules. It’s kind of a ‘Wild West’ approach to campaign finance.”
As far as the use of campaign money, McConnaughay said there’s nothing wrong with using it to repay a loan like she did.
“That’s what a loan is,” McConnaughay said. “You are loaning to the campaign with the understanding that it will be paid back. The bigger issue is when folks use campaign funds for things like vacations or extravagant lifestyles.”
As far as her own behavior?
“We have nothing to hide,” McConnaughay said. “And if you have nothing to hide, then put it out there for everybody to see. That’s what we’ve done at the county.”
Giving and receiving
A list of the companies/individuals that donated money to Kane County Chairman Karen McConnaughay’s campaign fund in 2009 and the amount those same companies/individuals received from the county for services rendered:
1. Plote Construction (and its owner, Dan Plote): donated $2,012; received $5,150,200
2. Baker Engineering: donated $750; received $1,698,434
3. Alfred Benesh & Co. (and employees of the company): donated $1,680; received $1,633,984
4. Geneva Construction (and President John Patrick Bryan): donated $1,000; received $1,214,781
5. McDonough Associates Inc.: donated $750; received $1,151,716
6. Wine Sergi & Co.: donated $750; received $842,532
7. Civiltech Engineering: donated $750; received $810,893
8. SEC Group (a subsidiary of the donor, Howard R. Green Co.): donated $750; received $499,921
9. Hampton, Lenzini & Renwich: donated $750; received $480,059
10. Curran Contraction: donated $500; received $443,831
11. Omega & Associates: donated $750; received $435,002
12. AT&T (via a PAC): donated $750; received $425,975
13. Wills, Burke, Kelsey Assoc. and Christopher B. Burke Engineering: donated $2,000, received $411,895
14. ComEd: donated $1,750; received $192,585
15. Entrain: donated $1,560; received $180,740
16. Day & Robert: donated $1,500; received $173,500
17. Crawford, Murphy & Tilly: donated $750; received $135,000
18. Elmhurst Chicago Stone Co. & GFS Fence, Guardrail and Signage: donated $2,750; received $126,977
19. Laser, Muchin, Dombrow, Becker, Levin & Tominberg (via partner Carl Tominberg): donated $750; received $105,513
20. CIORBA Group: donated $750; received $92,480
21. Shales McNutt Corp. (via President John Shales): donated $750; received $91,944
22. Engineering Enterprises: donated $930; received $87,674
23. Patrick Engineering: donated $750; received $78,637
24. Wight & Co.: donated $750; received $59,823
25. Bowman, Barrett & Associates: donated 1,750; received $45,970
26. V3 Consultants: donated $750; received $43,186
27. Grief, Anhalt, Schloemer Associates: donated $750; received $42,375
28. Homer L. Chastain & Associates: donated $1,500; received $38,768
29. Burns & McDonnell Engineering: donated $750; received $41,678
30. Kinnally, Flaherty, Krentz & Loran: donated $1,500; received $34,808
31. AECOM, USA: donated $500; received $33,486
32. Aldridge Electric: donated $500; received $28,170
33. HNTB Corp.: donated $750; received $26,654
34. Union Pacific: donated $500; received $16,058
35. Shodeen Inc.: donated $2,000; received $9,939
36. ESI Consultants: donated $750; received $7,681
37. Welch Bros. Inc.: donated $500; received $5,350
38. Cloverleaf Farms Distributors: donated $750; received $4,471
39. Gaffney’s PMI: donated $750; received $3,250
40. Hoving Clean Sweep (a subsidiary of the donor, Kenneth Hoving Recycling & Disposal): donated: $1,500; received $3,224
41. Comcast: donated $750; received $2,657
42. Alliance Mechanical: donated $250; received $935
43. Finkbiner Equipment: donated $250; received $74
SOURCE: Illinois State Board of Elections; Kane County Finance Department