After St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, a Democrat, spoke critically of Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk during a media teleconference in March, Republicans went looking for evidence.
They wanted to know if there were any emails or phone records to show that Kelly used county resources or county time for a political activity — and whether there was any connection to the campaign of Kirk’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth.
Kelly says the Kirk campaign won’t find anything political in the fishing expedition. But now he’s involved in a spat with Kirk’s office over whether Kelly’s staff has adequately complied with a records request.
Kelly spoke on a conference call in March along with Duckworth’s Senate campaign, in order to criticize Kirk’s votes on veterans issues.
A day after Kelly’s conference call, his office received a Freedom of Information Act request from a staff member in Kirk’s campaign asking for emails and a call log to see if there was any political coordination.
Kirk, a Republican who served as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, is running for re-election against Duckworth, the Democratic congresswoman from Hoffman Estates.
Kelly agreed to do the March 8 conference call in conjunction with the Duckworth campaign. However, Kelly, a Navy veteran said when he participated in the call, he was at his dining room table at home, using his personal cell phone.
“It’s on my own personal time, and my own personal opinion,” Kelly said.
He added no political activity is done in his office.
The Kirk campaign staff member, Clay Godfrey, asked for Kelly’s call log from Feb. 1 through March 9 and communications, including emails, between the state’s attorney and Duckworth’s congressional offices, or her campaign or campaign staff members.
“We found it odd that the state’s attorney would participate in a political press conference during office hours presumably using office tools/etc,” Eleni Demertzis, spokeswoman for the Kirk campaign, wrote in an email to a News-Democrat reporter. “This press conference call took place on a Tuesday at 10 in the morning.”
She added, “We were looking into the level of coordination between the St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office and the Duckworth campaign.”
We found it odd that the state’s attorney would participate in a political press conference during office hours presumably using office tools/etc. This press conference call took place on a Tuesday at 10 in the morning.
Eleni Demertzis, spokeswoman for the Mark Kirk for Senate campaign
Kelly said the request is nothing more than a campaign tactic.
“That’s the kind of silly things campaigns do now,” Kelly said. “I think we all know what’s going on here. It certainly has nothing to do with FOIA compliance, and certainly has nothing to do with helping our veterans.”
St. Clair County did provide some documents initially, but asked for an extension to fulfill the complete FOIA request.
Kelly had only one email that referred to Duckworth on his work account, and it was to assure Matt Jones, the associate director for administration of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutors, that Kelly was speaking as a veteran and not in an official state’s attorney capacity.
Kelly serves on the board of governors of the ISAAP.
“Some of my remarks were critical of Kirk voting against vet benefits so I just wanted to let you know that and to have this information should it be necessary to share that with members of the association in the event media were to mischaracterize in any way,” Kelly wrote.
St. Clair County FOIA officer Sean Murley wrote to Kirk’s campaign that the county phone provider was working to prepare Kelly’s call logs.
“This is a time-consuming process as the records must be screened for exempt material that could impact the progress or security of ongoing criminal investigations conducted by this office,” Murley wrote.
Kelly even offered to speak to Godfrey about the request.
According to the call logs, which were also released to the BND by Kelly’s office, there were phone calls to the U.S. Attorney’s office, attorney general’s office, other prosecutors, police officers, federal law enforcement, FBI, members of the news media, people with Open Meetings Act questions and his family members.
Kelly said his office had to review more than 140 phone numbers and make sure not to reveal confidential informants, or compromise criminal investigations, among other issues, before responding to the FOIA request.
That’s the kind of silly things campaigns do now. I think we all know what’s going on here. It certainly has nothing to do with FOIA compliance, and has nothing to do with helping our veterans.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly
Murley also asked for an extension to March 23 to fulfill the FOIA request, but the full request had not been fulfilled until Monday. Murley said he had been out of the office recently because of an illness.
However, because of the long response time, Godfrey sent a handful of emails asking for an update on the status request and ultimately filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access counselor, which is now reviewing the case.
“We have determined that further action is warranted as to the timeliness of the State’s Attorney’s Office’s response and the requested call logs,” Public Access Bureau Supervising Attorney Josh Jones wrote to St. Clair County.
Jones also asked Kelly’s office to provide a written explanation of the handling of the call log.
Kelly said review requests are normal in cases where people have questions about the response.
“We believe we’re fully compliant, as we always are. We make an effort in good faith to respond in a timely manner,” Kelly said. “But because of the nature of the request that was made by the requester, which was very detailed and potentially had some sensitive information, we had to vet this in the proper way to make sure this FOIA request didn’t interfere in any ongoing investigations, or disclose any private information that belongs to private citizens.”
Demertzis said the information was only provided to the Kirk campaign after the Attorney General’s office said it would review the matter, and members of the media began inquiring.
Demertzis said the delay showed a lack of transparency from Kelly’s office.
“It’s quite clear the response time and lack of transparency has been inadequate, and that is why the Attorney General's office has engaged,” Demertzis said.