The Illinois Board of Elections ruled on Wednesday that a complaint filed against McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio over an unreported in-kind contribution from his campaign committee was filed on justifiable grounds.
However, following a roughly hour-long closed session hearing on the matter, the board also determined that this complaint and a separate complaint against the Republican Central Committee of McHenry County would not proceed to a public hearing.
Both complaints were filed by Rachael Lawrence, an Algonquin Township trustee and former treasurer of the Republican Central Committee of McHenry County, who alleged that Tirio’s campaign committee – Citizens to Elect Joe Tirio – did not disclose that a $1,200 payment to Tirio’s attorney for a defamation lawsuit against a dark money group known as the Illinois Integrity Fund came from the Republican Central Committee.
Ronald Eck Jr. had filed a similar complaint last year, stating that the payment should have been reported as an in-kind contribution to Tirio’s campaign. But since the information Eck provided was from unidentified people, the allegations were determined not to have been filed on justifiable grounds.
According to hearing officer Andy Nauman’s report of last month’s closed hearing related to the complaints, Lawrence recalls asking at her first Executive Committee meeting as treasurer whether the $1,200 check to Philip Prossnitz was a legitimate political party expense and the other members brushed off the question, told her “of course it was,” and she shouldn’t worry about it.
According to the report, Lawrence didn’t turn the invoice over – which she said she discovered while cleaning and was separated from other committee records – because she was scared it would never see the light of day again, she would be branded a traitor and she would have to face the political implications.
Tirio’s committee’s attorney, Kenneth Shepro, had a different theory, according to the report.
Shepro said he believes the record will show that Lawrence testified that once she received the records, she went through them and picked out the important documents, she thinks she saw the invoice early on but apparently didn’t understand its importance, and she kept meticulous records but somehow despite all this careful recordkeeping, the invoice became separated, and then was discovered belatedly, according to the report.
Robert Hanlon, the attorney who represented Tirio’s election committee, had said the money was used by the RCCMC to confer with Prossnitz about whether it would be prudent to join Tirio’s suit against the Illinois Integrity Fund.
Tirio said during testimony regarding Eck’s complaint that he would be paying his own legal fees in the defamation suit.
In an attempt to refute this claim, Lawrence included in her complaint an invoice from Tirio’s attorney, Phil Prossnitz, calling the $1,200 payment a retainer “to represent Mr. Joseph Tirio in a potential lawsuit against the party or parties responsible for defaming, libeling and slandering the good name of Jospeh Tirio during the March 2018 primary in McHenry County.”
She also included a $1,200 check dated April 10, 2018, that went from the Republican Central Committee to Prossnitz with the words “Illinois Integrity Fund” written in the memo line.
A redacted check provided by Tirio to the Northwest Herald also showed a payment of $2,000 from his personal account to Prossnitz.
Tirio paid Prossnitz thousands of dollars out of his own pocket and had a GoFundMe page containing language that notified contributors that the funds were going to be deposited into Tirio’s campaign account for legal fees in his defamation suit, according to the report.
The check itself says what it was for and he doesn’t think the invoice contradicts that, Shepro said.
Instead of holding a public hearing, the board asked that the committees refile amended reports.
Illinois Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said committees typically have 30 days to file the amended reports. However, he has also said the board lacks any jurisdiction to perform any kind of enforcement of corrective measures to complaints.
Tirio said Wednesday that he didn’t read the situation the way the board ruled but he will fully agree with and abide by the election board’s decision.
Based on the evidence, Nauman determined that the transaction should have been filed as an in-kind contribution and ruled that the complaint was filed on justifiable grounds. However, Nauman determined that a second allegation was not filed on justifiable grounds.
As for the RCCMC complaint, Nauman also determined that the complaint was filed on justifiable grounds, reasoning that the sources that should have been identified as the beneficiary of the $1,200 expense would be the candidates on whose behalf they made the payment.
Because the election board determined that the complaints were justified, the contents of the closed hearing before the board’s hearing officer would become public, Dietrich said.