St. Clair County employees have been more generous with their money to county government leaders and the party in power, typically the Democratic Party, than their counterparts in Madison County, according to an analysis of campaign contributions.
It’s a common theme in local politics: If you have a public job, you’re expected to help support the party that makes that job possible.
According to a BND analysis of contribution data obtained from the Illinois State Board of Elections, county employees gave about four times as much money to the county’s Democratic Central Committee as did county employees in Madison County.
Since 1999 through the end of June of this year, the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee has received at least $1.6 million through more than 1,400 itemized contributions and transfers from county employees, elected officials, or their campaign funds, or attorneys or their law firms who do work for the county.
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Overall, during the time period, the St. Clair County committee has received about $3.8 million in itemized contributions.
The Madison County Democrat Central Committee has received about $442,000 through at least 315 itemized donations and transfers since 1999, mostly from elected officials or their campaign funds. There were considerably fewer county staff members and rank-and-file employees contributing to the party, according to the BND analysis.
Although fewer Madison County employees donate directly to the Democratic central committee, county employees are among the contributors to individual countywide elected officials.
Overall, Madison County’s Democratic Central Committee reported a total of about $1.99 million in itemized contributions during the same period.
These employees feel the effects of public officials, and therefore they want to be (politically) active. In my opinion it’s their right to be active. We want citizens participating in the political process.
Andrew Theising, chairman of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Political Science Department
To determine who had contributed what, the BND compared contribution records to county employee lists for the last five years. Earlier employee lists were not available.
When a political party receives a donation of more than $500, it is required to list the donor’s occupation and employer, said Jim Tenuto, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Listing an occupation and employer is optional for a donor if the donation is $500 or less, Tenuto said. Records show employer and occupation is rarely filled out.
Under state law, contributions from individuals to a candidate’s campaign is limited to $5,400 per election cycle, and $10,800 to a political party.
Just like politicians, county employees come and go, although many keep those jobs for years. In St. Clair County, there were a number of itemized contributions to the local Democratic committee totaling about $134,000 since 1999 from people who indicated they worked for the county, but were not on county employee rosters during the last five years for which the BND received records under the Freedom of Information Act.
The analysis gave a good indication that, in St. Clair County at least, political contributions from employees appear to be much more common.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, who himself has been a large contributor to the Democratic Party, said he doesn’t require people who work for the county to make contributions to either his own campaign fund or the party.
“There’s no requirement,” Kern said. “People support candidates that they believe are going to do a good job, and I would hope that’s why they supported me.”
Meanwhile, the St. Clair County Republican Central Committee has received about $61,000 in itemized donations since 2004, according to the State Board of Elections. Roughly $5,500 came from GOP members of the County Board.
Timothy Buchanan, the former chairman of the St. Clair County Republican Central Committee, said if the GOP was in power, there probably would be more money going to the local Republican Central Committee.
He said he wasn’t surprised to see many donations going to the Democratic Party coming from county employees.
“It’s a self-perpetuating system,” Buchanan said. “The people in power hire people that turn around and support those in power” at the polls.
The Madison County Republican Central committee has raised about $210,000 in itemized contributions since 2002, the period for which records are available online. Roughly $14,000 came from county employees or elected officials.
Andrew Theising, an associate professor and chairman of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Political Science Department, said it’s not uncommon that public employees give money to political parties or candidates.
“These employees feel the effects of public officials, and therefore they want to be (politically) active,” Theising said. “In my opinion it’s their right to be active. We want citizens participating in the political process.”
$1.6 million amount from St. Clair County employees, elected officials, attorneys or their law firms, to the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee since 1999
$442,600 amount from Madison County employees, elected officials, attorneys or their law firms, to the Madison County Democratic Central Committee since 1999
Elected officials asking for a donation in connection with an employee’s job, or the practice of asking for a lug, is illegal in Illinois.
“There cannot be a quid pro quo arranged for any political donation,” Theising said.
There are, however, legal ways to solicit donations from public employees. “It’s legal, and happens all the time,” he said.
Donations have come in via tickets to candidates’ or party fundraisers, such as buffet dinners, steak dinners or cocktail parties or golf outings. Often, these tickets run anywhere from $50 to $150 a ticket, which the data analysis found corresponds to the typical employee contribution.
Theising said the relatively small donations are better for politics than having a few substantial donations.
“I would argue it can be good, in the sense political participation is good,” Theising said. “We want public employees to exercise their rights as citizens. Their political participation is a good thing. It’s a far worse thing if we had a few multimillion-dollar donors driving campaign budgets.”
No one likes asking for money. It is tough to raise money.
Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan
Theising did concede that donations can have influence over candidates or parties.
“I know politicians sort their databases by donation levels,” Theising said. “I’m sure politicians would pay more attention to big donors than small donors. It makes sense for a particular group or group of individuals … would want to give more to rise higher on that list.”
He noted donors sometimes try to use their money to get favors out of government.
“I would argue 90 percent of donations, particularly small donations made to politicians, are from hard-working people who believe in a cause or a leader and want to be supportive,” Theising said.
Since 2003, Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan received at least $81,000 in itemized donations from people listed on the Madison County payroll during the last five years, or the law firms of attorneys doing legal work for the county.
He has received more than $960,000 in itemized contributions for his campaign committee during the time period, according to the state election board.
For his fundraisers, Dunstan disconnects himself from the process of selling tickets to his events. He has a committee that handles the ticket sales by mail, and he does not allow tickets to be sold at the county building.
“No one is obligated to buy tickets,” Dunstan said. “I don’t put pressure on anyone to buy tickets.”
“I think a lot of employees support me because they like they way the county is run,” Dunstan added.
The $100 tickets help raise money for the cost of running a countywide campaign. Dunstan said a single countywide mailing can cost about $30,000.
“Bottom line is, if I could run without campaign contributions, I would do it,” Dunstan said. “No one likes asking for money. It is tough to raise money.”
In St. Clair County, Kern has been receiving contributions mainly from county department heads, as well as County Board members. However, he also has received some contributions from lower-level employees.
Since 2004, Kern’s campaign committee has received at least $90,500 in 320 itemized donations from people listed on St. Clair County’s payroll in for the last five years, according to state records. Kern has raised more than $1 million since 2004, and according to the state, he and family members have been the largest contributors to his own campaign committee.
“I donate to a lot of people who I think will do a good job and do a good job,” Kern added.
During the last seven years of his tenure running the St. Clair County Health Department, Kevin Hutchison purchased tickets to Kern’s fundraisers. He spent $250 each year for two tickets for an event.
Hutchison said he never was required to buy the tickets.
“This is my own personal money (and) just my own voluntary decision,” Hutchison said.
They have a constitutional, free-speech right to donate to whoever they choose. It always raises questions, but it’s legal ...What helps keep it honest is for disclosure to occur. People can decide if it’s a good thing or not. The best cure is sunshine.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale
According to the State Board of Elections, among those who have made multiple contributions to Kern are Dan Maher, who was county administrator, but retired and now serves as an administrative adviser, and Debra Moore, who took over Maher’s role. Maher made 11 contributions; Moore has made six contributions.
“I’ve made contributions to candidates whom I feel are representing my interests and the interests of the broad segment of the population I’m interested in,” Moore said. “You will find my support to the select candidates and causes that I have passion about.”
Theising said he could imagine county department heads wanting to donate to a chairman if they all believe they are working well together.
“These folks made a career choice and are tied to the county for their careers,” Theising said. “I don’t know if it’s inappropriate for them to help the politician they like win re-election. It seems to me it’s in their own best interest to do so.”
He added, “I could easily see county government employees (saying), ‘We’re doing good things here ... we got a good team here, let’s keep it going. They’re investing in their beliefs.”
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said county employees donating to a party or candidate are exercising their First Amendment rights of free expression.
He said the practice of employees donating to the party in charge is very common.
“They have a constitutional, free-speech right to donate to whoever they choose,” Yepsen said. “It always raises questions, but it’s legal.”
He added, “What helps keep it honest is for disclosure to occur. People can decide if it’s a good thing or not. The best cure is sunshine.”
Info at a glance
Top donors to county Democratic central committees since 1999
- Top 5 St. Clair County (non-elected) department head or day-to-day employees.
- Thomas Maziarz, former director of central services, - $7,000 in 19 contributions
- Darrell Cates, former superintendent of highways - $6,750 in 13 contributions
- Jacqueline Krummrich, chief deputy auditor - $6,000 in 14 contributions
- Mark Eros, county clerk’s office employee - $5,600 in 4 contributions
- Margaret Eros, county clerk’s office - $5,480 in 10 contributions
- Top 5 Madison County (non-elected) department head or day-to-day employees.
- Beth Gori, assistant State’s attorney- $10,000 in 1 contribution
- Scott Rose, site development coordinator- $2,000 in 8 contributions
- William Schooley III, Madison County Regional Office of Education attorney - $1,450 in 4 contributions
- Ben Beyers, former assistant state’s attorney - $1,075 in 4 contributions
- Ron Slemer, former assistant public defender, now judge, $950 in 3 contributions
Top 5 contribution or transfer amounts by campaign committees to the St. Clair County Central Democratic Committee
- From the Committee to Elect Mark Kern, county chairman - $174,900 in 12 contributions
- From the Committee to re-elect Mike Costello, county recorder - $95,750 in 10 contributions
- From the Committee to elect Charles Suarez, treasurer - $93,977.10 in 22 contributions
- From the Committee to elect Tom Holbrook, county clerk - $80,145 in 26 contributions
- From the Friends of Rick Stone, coroner – $79,900 in 10 contributions
Top 5 contribution or transfer amounts by campaign committees in Madison County Central Democratic Committee
- From the Citizens for Hertz, former Madison County Sheriff Robert Hertz - $54,113.44 in 26 contributions
- From the Friends of Rick Faccin, auditor - $45,623.50 in 42 contributions
- From the Citizens for Dunstan, chairman Alan Dunstan - $41,692 in 18 contributions
- From the Friends of Von Nida/Von Nida for County clerk, Mark Von Nida, current circuit clerk - $40,547.63 in 24 contributions
- From the Citizens for Bill Mudge former State’s attorney, now a judge - $39,025 in 18 contributions