Metro-East News

McCarter, seeking congressional seat, faces questions over spending from state campaign fund

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, speaks during his congressional campaign announcement in Highland in October.
State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, speaks during his congressional campaign announcement in Highland in October. News-Democrat

In the months leading up to his announcement that he’s seeking a congressional seat, state Sen. Kyle McCarter spent more than $33,000 from his state campaign fund on a political consultant.

He used that state account to pay the consultant even though he wouldn’t be facing re-election as a state senator until 2018.

That same consultant — Elizabeth Van Holt, owner of Isaiah Consulting in Downers Grove — showed up with McCarter when he announced his congressional candidacy on Oct. 7 in Highland.

Here’s the rub: Money from a state campaign fund isn’t supposed to be used for a federal campaign.

McCarter, in an interview Thursday, said the $33,000 was paid to Isaiah for work connected to his state Senate post.

“This is an attempt by those opposing me to make something of nothing,” said McCarter, a Republican from Lebanon. “If there was anything wrong, I wouldn’t have done it. This was an eight-month contract that I had with Isaiah, and it pertained to my position in the state.”

McCarter is challenging incumbent Congressman John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, for the Republican nomination in the 15th Congressional District.

Shimkus spokesman Steve Tomaszewski said McCarter may need to correct the reporting on his campaign expenditures.

“Candidates have the responsibility to comply with state and federal laws when raising and spending money for campaigns,” Tomaszewski said. “We’ve seen what happens when elected officials improperly document their campaign finances, so if there is an issue here, I hope our opponent would self-report it and correct it.”

We’ve seen what happens when elected officials improperly document their campaign finances, so if there is an issue here, I hope our opponent would self-report it and correct it.

Steve Tomaszewski, spokesman for Congressman John Shimkus

At McCarter’s campaign announcement in Highland, Van Holt played a role in coordinating the event.

McCarter on Thursday said Van Holt at that point had been hired to work on his congressional campaign.

“That’s something totally different,” McCarter said. “I’m not disassociating myself from her. She has a new role on my campaign, but the eight-month contract I had with her was completed.”

Kent Redfield, a retired political science professor at University of Illinois-Springfield, said Van Holt’s attendance at McCarter’s congressional announcement makes it difficult to believe her previous work involved only McCarter’s state Senate position.

“It casts more suspicion on exactly what that money was being spent for,” Redfield said. “In these kinds of situations, appearances are important. People can connect the dots on whether things are fair or unfair.”

It casts more suspicion on exactly what that money was being spent for.

Kent Redfield, expert on Illinois politics

Redfield said federal campaign-finance rules are more strict than Illinois’ rules. For example, on the federal level, corporations can’t make direct contributions to candidates, but they can contribute to candidates on the state level in Illinois.

Violating the rules probably would result in only a fine, possibly much later on, according to Redfield.

“But he’s put himself in a position, at best, where he’s having to explain why he hasn’t violated federal law, rather than getting elected to Congress,” Redfield said.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, said the issue could become a distraction for McCarter.

“He’ll want the focus to be on Shimkus, and not on his campaign finances,” Yepsen said. “Politically, he’s going to have to get that right. That’s something that he cannot fudge.”

McCarter, who is favored by Tea Party-type groups, said he wants the campaign to be about issues.

“The real issue here is about him not keeping his word, when he says he’s for term limits and then he stays 20 years. I’m doing the complete opposite. I’m actually turning myself out in the state Senate — I’m not going to run again,” McCarter said. “And the fact that he voted to fund Planned Parenthood.”

The real issue here is about him not keeping his word, when he says he’s for term limits and then he stays 20 years.

Sen. Kyle McCarter, on Congressman John Shimkus

Shimkus first ran for Congress in 1996 on a vow to serve only 12 years. He has said he decided to serve additional terms at the request of constituents.

As for funding of Planned Parenthood, Tomaszewski said most Planned Parenthood funding is through the states, as Medicaid payments, and Shimkus has voted to redirect those entitlement funds away from Planned Parenthood. The National Right to Life Committee said that the continuing resolution was not the proper vehicle for defunding Planned Parenthood, Tomaszewski said.

McCarter paid Isaiah Consulting $16,000 on June 1; $16,000 on July 1 and $1,675 on Sept. 29.

McCarter campaign spokesman Ted Deets said, “This is just standard campaign operations, paying a vendor for their time over eight months. Anyone asserting otherwise is just engaging in baseless accusations.”

Brian Brueggemann: 618-239-2475, @B_Brueggemann

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