A Chicago printing company president facing jail time named McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks’ former campaign manager as one of the men behind the Illinois Integrity Fund, the dark money group that funded a campaign attacking McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio before the March primary.
Facing a contempt charge for refusing to comply with a Nov. 29 court order requiring him to disclose the identities of the people who orchestrated a piece of campaign literature that called Tirio a “crook,” Richard Lewandowski, president of Chicago-based Breaker Press, named Michael Noonan, the former campaign director of Franks and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and Sean Tenner, a former aide of Barack Obama and Madigan, as the people behind the group.
Although he did not have direct conversations with Franks, Lewandowski said he had reason to believe Franks was involved after hearing that through third parties.
Franks was not immediately available for comment.
Tirio and his Woodstock attorney, Philip Prossnitz, are far from finished.
“My attorney and I will put our heads together to figure out what’s next,” Tirio said.
Natalie Harris, the Chicago attorney representing Breaker Press and former clerk candidate Janice Dalton, said the outcome “deeply saddened” her.
“The First Amendment lost,” Harris said.
Refusing to comply
Last week, Harris filed a letter in McHenry County court stating that her clients – Dalton and Breaker Press – refused to comply with the order requiring the disclosure of information about the anonymous mailer.
Tirio appeared in court with Prossnitz on Monday to ask a judge to have Dalton and Lewandowski held in contempt of court.
Instead, Harris has asked that her clients – who include “John Doe,” the unnamed person or group behind the Illinois Integrity Fund – be found in contempt without being jailed.
Forcing Harris to disclose the Illinois Integrity Fund’s identity on behalf of her clients would violate the group’s constitutional right to anonymous speech, and keep her from protecting that anonymity on appeal, Harris wrote in a court filing Thursday.
McHenry County Judge Kevin Costello continued the case to Friday for a hearing on the matter.
For months, Tirio had tried to unmask the group responsible for a flyer that circulated before the March primary and accused him of making patronage hires and taking vacations with a “secret taxpayer-funded slush fund.”
Prossnitz said that he believed Dalton might know who paid for the flyers, since she previously used similar accusatory language in automated telephone calls, he said.
Dalton and Lewandowski made their first court appearances in connection with the probe Friday.
Until now, Harris has represented the pair in court and fought to keep her clients from disclosing any information, claiming that the flyers are examples of political and anonymous speech protected by the First Amendment.
Harris appealed Costello’s order for disclosure, and her request was rejected Thursday.
On Friday, Harris said Dalton does not have intimate knowledge about the Illinois Integrity Fund. Under oath, Dalton told Prossnitz she had no knowledge of the people behind the Illinois Integrity Fund.
Dalton said she first learned of the “Crooked Joe Tirio” language when a friend texted her a picture of the flyer. She had never heard of the Illinois Integrity Fund until she saw the flyer and looked up the group in a Google search. The disclosure saved Dalton from a contempt charge.
Breaker Press breaks silence
Located in the 2400 block of South Western Avenue, Breaker Press in recent years has brokered political printing deals worth more than
$8.9 million, according to campaign finance records.
Many prominent Illinois Democrats occupy the company’s client list, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
On Friday afternoon, Breaker Press boss Lewandowski stood his ground and declined to comply with Costello’s order.
The judge ruled that the businessman would be held in contempt of court and put in jail Dec. 28 – because he refused to throw anyone in jail before the holidays.
But after a brief recess to talk with Harris, Lewandowski changed his mind.
He named Noonan, Tenner and Franks, a move that purged him of the contempt charge.
A political spectacle
The courtroom audience included a who’s who of McHenry County politicos: Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser, McHenry County GOP Chairwoman Diane Evertsen, Vice President Chuck Wheeler and McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim.
At one point, during a short recess, Prim stood up.
Evertsen asked if the sheriff planned to leave. She told him he’d miss “the good part.”
“Yeah, when?” Prim said. “Could be Thursday.”