Harvey mayor could be off the ballot unless fines paid

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Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg has 40 days to come up with $72,750, or his controversial reign as the south suburb’s municipal leader could be over.

That’s not the plotline of a new political thriller.

The Illinois State Board of Elections, the government agency that regulates campaign activities, says Kellogg’s political committee owes civil penalties totaling $72,750 for failing to file mandatory fundraising disclosure reports in recent years.

The political committee has until Jan. 29 to either pay the full amount or negotiate a settlement with the board of elections.

If Kellogg, the committee’s chairman, can’t come up with the cash or an agreement isn’t reached before then, his name won’t appear on the ballot in the April 7 election, effectively ending his 12-year mayoral career, state officials say.

Kellogg’s third term expires this spring.

He plans to run for reelection and has filed nominating petitions with Harvey’s city clerk’s office, as have two other mayoral candidates, suburban officials say.

The board of elections has settled with other political committees, typically for at least 50 percent of the penalty. In this case that’d be $36,375. “I can’t see the board going any lower than that,” says Steve Sandvoss, the board of election’s general counsel.

“We’re always open to a settlement,” says Board of Elections Chairman Jesse Smart. “But I have to admit they’ve blown us off for . . . years so they’re a little late in trying to negotiate. The only reason we have their attention is because he wants to be on the ballot.”

The committee, “Citizens to Elect Eric J. Kellogg,” had $15,400 in cash as of March 31, 2014, according to its most recent fundraising disclosure report. The board of elections says those funds could be used to pay a portion of the penalties.

But even if that money is still on hand, Kellogg would need to come up with an additional $57,350, or roughly the equivalent of his annual mayoral salary, if no settlement is reached.

Through a spokesman, Kellogg issued a statement saying, “The campaign lawyers are in discussions with the Illinois State Board of Elections and are very confident that a settlement will be reached very soon.”

Fundraising issues aside it’s been a challenging year for Kellogg, as evidenced by a few examples:

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Harvey and its former comptroller last June for allegedly defrauding investors in a troubled hotel development deal. Under a proposed consent decree, filed Dec. 4, a federal court monitor would oversee Harvey bond sales and track how that money is spent for the next three years.
  • In October, Harvey’s City Council went against Kellogg and asked Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to review the operations of the suburb’s troubled police department. That assessment, which Kellogg opposed, could be completed by next month, a Dart spokeswoman says.
  • Last month a Cook County judge ordered Harvey to pay the City of Chicago $26 million in unpaid water bills, a gut-wrenching payment for the financially distressed suburb.

A year ago, the Better Government Association reported that Kellogg’s political committee didn’t file fundraising disclosure reports for more than three years.

State law requires campaign committees to submit quarterly reports to the elections board. The reports are supposed to reveal the names of all donors who have given $150 or more over the preceding three months, as well as detail how that cash was spent – whether for campaign signs, cell phones or something else.

The filings are then posted online for the public to review. The aim is transparency – so the public knows who’s donating money and whether it’s used for legitimate purposes. In Illinois, campaign funds are to be used only for political purposes, not for enhancing personal incomes.

Approximately six weeks after the BGA story, on Feb. 12 and 13, 2014, Kellogg’s committee filed three years of quarterly reports, though it has blown past deadlines for filing subsequent disclosures.

In all, the board of elections has fined the committee $72,750.

That includes $55,900 for “delinquently” filing a dozen quarterly reports, from March 2011 to September 2013, plus $16,850 for other related violations. The committee hasn’t paid any of those penalties, state officials say.

The board of elections could’ve asked a judge to issue an order compelling Kellogg to pay the fines or referred the matter to prosecutors. But officials say they’re not going soft on the mayor, noting Kellogg must either pay or leave office.

Says Andy Nauman, deputy director of the board of elections’ division of campaign disclosure, “The hammer we have is ballot forfeiture.”

This column was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at aschroedter@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9035.

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