Democrats ogling the Gingrich-Romney rivalry with the envy of political junkies looking for a fix now have a local contest to fill the void: the race for 32nd Ward Democratic Committeeman.
Yesterday John Fritchey, Cook County Commissioner and current committeeman, fired a salvo against his opponent, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), with a press release that called into question financial reporting violations made by Waguespack’s campaign. But when RVJ took a closer look we found that Waguespack’s actual violations were considerably less than charged and that Fritchey actually has one campaign finance violation of his own on record.
According to the news release: “Official records show that Waguespack’s campaign has been fined at least 15 times over the last 4 years for failing to comply with state election laws. The fines originally levied against the campaign total nearly $15,000.00.”
Accompanying documentation provided by the Fritchey campaign, as gathered from the Illinois Board of Elections (BoE), shows that 10 of the 15 fines date back to 2007; the most recent fine was assessed in June 2011. In addition, Fritchey’s team draws attention to the failure of Waguespack’s campaign to file required quarterly disclosure reports for the last three reporting periods; records show Waguespack’s campaign last submitted a quarterly report March 31, 2011.
According to the Illinois BoE, the majority of fines levied against Waguespack’s campaign were of the “A-1″ variety, which requires campaigns to report contributions over $1,000 (the previous threshold was $500). These fines typically are reduced to 10 percent of the contribution in question.
Tom Newman, of the BoE’s campaign disclosure office, noted that Waguespack’s total fines amounted to “closer to $1,500″ and have all been paid. Contrary to Fritchey’s claims, Newman stated that no complaints have yet been filed by the BoE against Waguespack’s campaign for the overdue quarterly reports, though penalties are likely to be assessed in the coming weeks.
Fritchey spokesman Nick Wilbat acknowledged that the commissioner’s campaign was working with raw numbers when tallying the total of Waguespack’s fines, not the ultimate assessment. Asked about the source of irregularities in Waguespack’s quarterly filings, which the BoE has yet to make official, Wilbat stated that the Fritchey campaign came across the lapse in reports while searching Waguespack’s committee on the Board of Elections website.
“We were wondering what sort of expenditures and contributions,” he was recording, said Wilbat. The quarterly reports are important, he added, in that they show voters, “where donations are coming from.”
Newman stated that he has been in contact with the treasurer of Waguespack’s campaign, who explained to Newman that the filing delays were the result of difficulties with BoE electronic filing software. “Going three periods without filing, that is uncommon,” Newman said.
A BoE search of Fritchey’s campaign committees shows a single penalty against Friends of John Fritchey for an A-1 violation; first offenses are automatically stayed, according to Newman. Friends of John Fritchey is no longer active; the BoE shows no fines against Fritchey’s other active campaign committees, 32nd Ward Democratic Party and Chicago PAC.
As of publication, Ald. Waguespack’s office had yet to respond to RVJ‘s request for more information. Ald. Waguespack contacted RVJ Tuesday afternoon. Regarding the missing quarterly reports: According to the alderman, his office has been experiencing technical difficulties with the BoE’s electronic filing software. “We asked if we could file paper, but once you file electronically, you can’t go back.” Waguespack was unclear as to why the BoE software and his campaign’s data were so incompatible. “Their IT [the BoE's] guy had our computer for two days trying to do a work around.” The alderman emphasized that “we haven’t been fined” for the missing quarterly filings. “I’m concerned. We want to make sure we get the tech working,” he said and added, “I’ve got nothing to hide.”