Friday, March 8, 2013

SMOKED OUT: DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin's Pick Chris Hage - All Pork & No Bean Counter Fundraiser


"Eliminating boards and commissions that pay generously for part-time work will both pare down the size of government and help our bottom line." - Chris Hage, Republican candidate for 42nd District Representative of Illinois, February 2012

Part Three of a CountyLeaks series on numerous ethical and public interest questions surrounding DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin's reappointment of Federation of Illinois Young Republicans Executive Director Chris Hage to the DuPage County Election Commission...

Prior to his Election Commission appointment last July, political activist and paid campaign operative Hage was a candidate in the Republican 2012 primary race for 42nd District Representative of Illinois against Jeanne Ives.

The "First Annual Winter Ribfest" in January 2012 at the DuPage County Forest Preserve-owned Danada House in Wheaton was among Hage's fundraisers promoted during the campaign. Invitations of this widely-publicized event lured contributors with Q-BBQ ribs and pulled pork. 

David Diersen, writer/editor of GOPUSA Illinois Daily Clips, wrote: Justice Joe Birkett spoke very highly of Chris Hage at his outstanding fundraiser at Danada House in Wheaton, Tuesday evening, January 31, 2012. The 100 attendees included Anderson, Cook, Fisher, Galvin, Grogan, Johnson, A. Jorgensen, Kinsella, Kmiecik, McKillip, Mouhelis, Sanguinetti, Veenstra, and Urasky.

Yet CountyLeaks cannot locate any expenditures or in-kind contributions directly related to this ribfest fundraiser reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBOE), as required by the rules and regulations for disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures.

As an Election Commissioner, Hage routinely makes decisions on candidates' filed paperwork -- one minor mistake could bounce someone off the ballot with no opportunity to correct it.

"Hage said his past experience as a candidate helps him appreciate the importance of running elections properly. 'It's absolutely critical that people know the rules, can depend on them, and ultimately -- when disputes arise -- can trust that they are administered fairly,' Hage said," as reported by Robert Sanchez of the Daily Herald, July 10, 2012.

Other candidates -- Dewey PierottiRob BiscegliePeter RoskamGwen HenryMichael McMahonJohn KinsellaDaniel Guerin and Tim Whelan -- have shown payments of $190 to $500 to Friends of Danada for rental of the Danada House facility in recent years, according to filings at the ISBOE. No such payment from Citizens for Chris Hage had been reported at the time of this publication.

Danada House is owned by the DuPage County Forest Preserve. 

CountyLeaks could not find the Forest Preserve's policy allowing for use of a public facility for political purposes. Because Friends of Danada is a quasi-public/private organization and thereby exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, rental payments cannot be obtained from the Forest Preserve nor from Friends of Danada.

Hage's paid campaign treasurer was Forest Preserve Employee and Financial Director Jack Hogan. At the time of the fundraiser, political strategists Reverse Spin were under contract by the Forest Preserve for $48,000. Both Hage and Dan Curry of Reverse Spin worked closely together in 2006 campaign team of Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett and Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka

Hage's campaign chairman was Patti Birkett, wife of Joe Birkett, former DuPage County State's Attorney and now sitting on the Illinois District 2 Appellate Court.

At the time of this publication, promotions of that fundraiser still drift on-line -- herehere, and here. Citizens for Chris Hage enticed contributors with pulled pork and chicken, ribs, mac and bbQ beans from Q-BBQ restaurant in Naperville.

Yet, CountyLeaks could not uncover an expenditure, contribution or in-kind contribution at the ISBOE's website associated with Q-BBQ nor its owner, Mike LaPidus, for the food and beverages served to the reported 100 guests, each charged $40. 

Q Restaurant Group's LaPidus is active in the Chicago Young Republicans. His name and face pop up in the same political and social circles with Hage and Rick Veenstra. CountyLeaks published the political ties of Hage and Veenstra this week. Veenstra is the Deputy Chief of the Civil Bureau and manager of  Governmental Affairs and Special Litigation Division at the DuPage County State's Attorney's office, and is the elected co-chairman of the Young Republican National Federation

The e-mail address of Barbara Skurka/Marquardt was provided for guests to RSVP to Hage's Ribfest. Skurka/Marquardt had been paid $380,000 for extensive political consulting work, including Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett with Hage, Hogan and Reverse SpinCitizens to Elect Dan Cronin paid Marquardt Consulting $10,000 in 2010 and Hage $1,500 in 2009.

Although Skurka/Marquardt was compensated well for political consulting work on other campaigns, there are no expenditures listed for her work on Citizens to Elect Chris Hage. 

She is married to Scott Marquardt, owner of Marquardt & Co. of Wheaton, a lobbying firm for both the office of DuPage State's Attorney and the Election Commission. As an Election Commissioner, Hage approves $3,000 monthly payments to the lobbying firm and gives direction on pending bills in Springfield.

Skurka/Marquardt is also the paid political fundraiser for the campaign of current DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin. Since February 2011, Skurka/Marquardt has received an estimated $44,000 from Citizens for Bob Berlin for fundraising, despite Berlin never facing opposition. Hage worked together with Veenstra and Berlin as DuPage County assistant state's attorneys.

Cronin said, “...I feel confident that the new leadership team we have installed at the election commission will work in an open, ethical manner that reflects the best interest of DuPage County voters,” according to the Daily Herald's Robert Sanchez.

Make a difference. Attend the next meetings of the DuPage County Board and the DuPage County Forest Preserve Board and voice your opinions in public comment:

Tuesday, Mar. 12th, 10 am - DuPage County Board Meeting, 421 County Farm Road, Wheaton

Tuesday, Mar. 12th, 7 pm - DuPage County Forest Preserve Meeting, 3S580 Naperville Road, Wheaton (the Forest Preserve only meets one evening each quarter)

To File a Complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections for any violations of the Campaign Disclosure Act, click HERE.

CountyLeaks Asks:

Is it a conflict of interest for the DuPage County Forest Preserve's Finance Director, Jack Hogan, to be the treasurer for Citizens for Bob Berlin, especially while the State's Attorney's office is prosecuting 317 felony indictments on financial matters at the Forest Preserve?

Did Hage receive use of Danada House for free or did he just fail to report rental of the facility, along with all the food, beverages and promotions for his ribfest? How could such a big event be a complete oversight?

Does removing the wedding photo of Veenstra's Facebook site showing that Hage was among his groomsmen suddenly remove the conflict of interest?

As it appears that Skurka/Marquardt was not compensated for her fundraising services -- services she has been well compensated for in the past -- will Hage pay her back indirectly by approving contracts with the Election Commission's lobbying firm, Marquardt & Co.? (By the way, why does an election board require a lobbying firm?)

Should a candidate who omits required expenditures to the Illinois State Board of Elections be allowed to stand in judgement of other candidates with benign errors or their campaign paperwork, ie: a petition signature which doesn't match the voter registration name scribbled 30 years ago?

Will Hage let ALL candidates who make more errors on their paperwork off the hook because of this experience?

Anything else unreported by Citizens for Chris Hage?

Did Citizens for Bob Berlin farm out the services of Skurka/Marquardt? How did Hage pay for her professional consulting, after all, she charges other candidates for her services? Why does Berlin pay a fundraiser so much when he's never had any opposition?

Is it time to change the state statute allowing the DuPage County Election Commission to be an independent, county-wide election board? This law gives the County Board chairman the power to appoint its members without County Board approval. The County Board votes on other appointments of county-funded boards and commissions -- why not the Election Commission?

Explain how a political activist suddenly becomes unbiased...thanks.

Should quasi-public/private organizations such as Friends of Danada be exempt from FOIA? Or should officials continue to have places to hide their monkey business?

If Cronin truly wanted someone on the Election Commission with previous experience as a candidate for public office, why didn't he just keep roller-skating-gorilla-suit-wearing J.P. "Rick" Carney? Not only did Carney have more years of experience as a candidate, he wasn't a loser...

Of the 560,718 registered voters in DuPage County, couldn't Cronin have appointed someone more...normal?