Sen. Kirk’s campaign fund helped pay caregiver

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WASHINGTON — In the wake of a massive stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., needed a caregiver to help him. Kirk paid him through a combination of personal and campaign funds.

The arrangement shows how Kirk was able to leverage his control of his “Kirk for Senate” campaign fund to employ the caregiver.

Most stroke victims do not have the luxury of providing a second job for a caregiver not paid through personal funds. In Kirk’s case, according to a letter from the Senate Ethics Committee, most of the duties of that second, campaign-paid job could be performed at Kirk’s home.

Though Kirk used his own money to pay for the part-time services of Mervyn Fombe-Abiko, he also put him on his campaign payroll for part of 2013, all of 2014, with the last checks coming in January 2015, when he left his employment.

Mervyn Fombe-Abiko | Upper Merion Township Police Department Photo via AP

Mervyn Fombe-Abiko | Upper Merion Township Police Department Photo via AP

“Mervyn wanted to change careers and learn new skill sets, so Mark offered him an opportunity for an entry-level position on the campaign,” Kevin Artl, Kirk’s campaign manager, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday.

The Chicago Tribune first reported about Kirk’s employment of Fombe-Abiko and his arrests in credit card scams.

I asked Artl for Kirk’s reaction to Fombe-Abiko’s arrests, and he told me: “Kirk was saddened and disappointed, but still hoped that Mervyn would learn from his mistakes and begin making the right choices. Sen. Kirk is a strong believer in second chances.”

Artl told the Sun-Times that Kirk’s rehab has progressed to the point where, two months ago, he stopped needing overnight assistance and is less reliant on caregivers. Kirk, who has limited mobility, gets around using a wheelchair and, for shorter distances, a cane.

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Kirk’s health is a factor in his 2016 re-election campaign, with some Republicans raising questions on whether he is up to the brutal race ahead. Kirk is a major Democratic target.

Artl said Kirk personally paid Fombe-Abiko $29,177 while he was employed as the senator’s personal caregiver. Payroll records provided to the Sun-Times show Kirk paid the employer’s tax.

Kirk for Senate campaign records show the campaign paid Fombe-Abiko about $45,000 during that period.

RELATED: Mark Brown: Most people can’t rely on campaign fund to pay caregiver

Artl said Kirk paid the law firm of Wiley Rein to prepare documents to get a confimation from the Senate Select Committee on Ethics that there were no problems with the caregiver being paid from personal and campaign funds.

Federal Election Commission records show Fombe-Abiko’s first payment from the Kirk for Senate campaign was made in August 2013, before the committee responded.

On Sept. 3, 2013, the counsel for the committee told Kirk’s lawyers — in a letter released by the Kirk campaign — “the arrangement described in your correspondence would be permissible.”

Fombe-Abiko was assigned to Kirk’s national fundraising team and would accompany him to events in Chicago and Washington, the Senate letter said.

The Senate committee lawyer’s letter said the annual salary would be about $40,000 a year and “the individual would perform campaign duties from Senator Kirk’s home.”

Fombe-Abiko was never an employee of the U.S. Senate and did no official work.

Kirk first hired Fombe-Abiko through a firm called Home Care Assistance. A company spokesman, Isabelle La, told the Sun-Times that Fombe-Abiko passed a criminal background check.

If Kirk requires home help, Artl said the senator calls the health care firm and asks them to send out a caregiver.

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