Did Leader Cross' Candidate Illegally Use State Workers to Gather Petitions?

-By Warner Todd Huston

On Monday I posted the letter from David McSweeny informing his supporters that he was challenging the petitions filed for Kent Gaffney. The two, along with Tea Party favorite Danielle Rowe, are running for the 52nd District State House seat — Gaffney is the incumbent there. It isn’t a simple challenge, though. McSweeney alleges that Gaffney used state workers who were on the clock to gather his petitions, a crime if true.

Now, Gaffney is the incumbent State Rep who was never elected. You see, he was appointed to the seat last June by GOP House Leader Tom Cross after it was left empty upon the passing of Rep. Mark Beaubien. A consummate political insider, Gaffney was the House Appropriations Budget Director before he was handed the plum job of State Rep upon Beaubien’s passing. Gaffney, a social moderate, has never been elected to state office before. Now, for the first time, he’s trying to get elected in his own right to the seat he holds.

Well, Gaffney may be a moderate on social issues but if McSweeney’s charges are correct, Gaffney is no moderate on the old fashioned corruption that has plagued Springfield for far too long. He’s full on for it if these charges ring true.

McSweeney is saying that Gaffney impressed state workers into service, while they were on the clock mind you, to go out and pass around his petitions in order to gather the signatures needed to get their boss on the primary ballot. Then McSweeney alleges that Gaffney had other people sign their names taking credit for having been the petition circulators covering up the fact that it was really the state employees that did the work. As it happens, to force your staffers to do this sort of political work on state time would be a crime in Illinois.

Said McSweeney:

A primary motivation for my action revolves around the use of Illinois State Government staffers to pass petitions for Mr. Gaffney and the fraud that was subsequently uncovered. Specifically, the true identities of the actual circulators for many of Mr. Gaffney’s petitions were intentionally falsified and I believe that the intent of the cover up was to mask the amount of government time spent doing campaign work. Thus far, we have obtained the sworn affidavits of 41 citizens of the 52nd district attesting to the fraud and we are continuing to gather information.

McSweeney says he has more proof than just the say-so of some staffers, too.

With regard to these government paid staffers, we have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and have requested time sheets and documentation of their time. It is illegal to use government resources for campaign purposes and it appears that the fraudulent actions of these staffers with regard to their petition circulation may well be related to an attempt to cover up the level of campaign activity on behalf of Mr. Gaffney. Be assured that we will continue to pursue the truth on this matter. We will also provide a copy of our objections to the appropriate legal authorities.

Now, imagine the laziness involved here as Leader Cross’ guy, Gaffney, couldn’t be bothered to spend the few days need to gather his own signatures to get on the ballot. A State Rep. candidate only needs 500 signatures from voters registered in his own district, after all. That is not an insurmountable number of signatures. A pain in the rear, maybe, insurmountable, no.

This doesn’t seem to be an attempt at mere politics by McSweeney, either. As Cal Skinner notes, other Illinois pols have gone to jail for similar lapses. “House Minority Leader Lee Daniels’ top assistant Mike Tristano went to jail for using state-paid House Republican staff employees to work on legislative campaigns,” Skinner recounts.

I would also like to note here that attorney Richard Means is no lightweight, penny-ante political hanger on. He’s done some heavy work in this state and has a reputation to protect. Somehow I don’t see a man of means like Means (if you’ll excuse the pun) involving himself in a mere political ploy like some that might be seen frivolously chasing beanbag – you know, as in what politics ain’t. I think there is some fire under this smoke.

But maybe it wasn’t simply laziness on Gaffney’s part? Maybe the word is arrogance? Collecting petition sigs is below a man of his insider station, I suppose.

Anyway, I will not state here at this time that McSweeny’s charges are the God’s honest truth. But I have to say from what I’ve seen so far and from the fact that neither Cross nor Gaffney are coming out forcefully denying all this — they are apparently trying to keep this as quiet as possible, it’s been a few days and still no comment — I lean toward guessing that McSweeny is not just blowing smoke here.

There is an even bigger question, too. Mind you this is all speculation, but the bigger question is what did Leader Tom Cross know and when did he know it? If Appointee insider Gaffney really did illegally use state workers on the clock to get his petition signatures, how much did Leader Cross know about this? After all, Gaffney is Cross’ man. There is no denying how close these two politicians are.

Is this all just more, typical Illinois corruption, the kind from which many hoped we’d at least have a holiday after the conviction of Rod Blagojevich? Or is McSweeney simply wrong about his allegations?

There’s politics and there’s politics. But this one seems less mere politics and more serious accusations.

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