Maybe former Ald. Wilson Frost really did take it with him when he died

They say you can’t. But nobody has explained what happened to $241,565 Frost had in his campaign fund. Now, election officials say it’s not their problem.

SHARE Maybe former Ald. Wilson Frost really did take it with him when he died
Ald. Carrie Austin, left, in 2015; Ald. Wilson Frost, right, in 1983.

Ald. Carrie Austin, left, in 2015; Ald. Wilson Frost, right, in 1983.

Rich Hein / Sun-Times; Sun-Times files

State election officials have closed the books on the late Ald. Wilson Frost’s campaign-finance committee, leaving unresolved the mystery of what happened to the $241,565 he last reported holding there.

The Illinois State Board of Elections declared the committee “FINAL” as of Oct. 22, about two months after I wrote a column raising questions about what happened to the money.

With Frost dead and everyone else associated with his campaign fund denying involvement with the money, the board moved to “administratively terminate” the committee. Meaning, as far as they’re concerned, it’s not their problem.

“We’ve done everything we can do,” said election board spokesman Matt Dietrich.

That’s probably true. Under Illinois law, the State Board of Elections is pretty much a paper tiger, without the ability to look behind the information submitted by candidates about money they’ve raised and spent.

Campaign-finance reporting in Illinois is based on the honor system: Candidates are trusted to self-report who gives them money and what they do with it.

I was reminded recently of the weakness in such a system when assigned to review corruption cases from the Chicago area the past decade, a history replete with officeholders getting in trouble by secretly dipping into campaign funds for personal use.

I’m not exactly sure of the solution. But a good starting place might be to pass a law allowing the Board of Elections to obtain a campaign’s bank records, which Dietrich said isn’t allowed.

That certainly could be helpful in sorting out what happened with Frost, the former 34th Ward alderman and longtime Cook County Board of Review commissioner.

Frost died in May 2018 at 92 in Palm Desert, California, where he moved after retiring.

He hadn’t held office in nearly two decades. But he had kept alive his last remaining campaign fund, Citizens for Frost, which continued to faithfully file quarterly disclosure reports with the state.

Oddly, the fund never reported receiving as much as a penny in interest after 2000 on a balance during most of that time of $223,581. Nor did it report paying any bank service fees.

In fact, Citizens for Frost had not reported any expenditures whatsoever since 1999, when Frost lagged $500 to the campaign of his friend Joe Berrios, the former Cook County assessor and Democratic Party chairman.

During all of that time, the only money deposited into Citizens for Frost was $17,983 Frost transferred in 2014 from another campaign committee, Friends for Frost, before closing it.

From that day, Frost always reported the same balance in his political account, $241,565, which is where things still stood in April 2019 when his longtime campaign treasurer Dianne Turner sent a letter to the election board resigning her position.

As I reported last August, Turner is also campaign treasurer for Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) and an employee in Austin’s ward office.

FBI agents raided Austin’s ward office last June. Ever since, she has been very busy amending her own campaign reports to clear up numerous discrepancies and omissions.

In Turner’s letter to the election board, she took unusual care to distance herself from Frost’s campaign fund, saying she “had no jurisdiction or charge over any bank accounts of monies in connection with the committee’s responsibilities.”

That would not absolve her of any responsibility to file a “true, correct and complete report,” as she attested on each one she submitted.

Way back in 2000, Turner filed a form for Citizens for Frost declaring that the committee would use its funds to support Austin, Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims and then-state Sen. Emil Jones — all members of the 34th Ward organization.

But there is no record of it ever having done so. Sims and Jones have denied any knowledge of the fund, and Austin isn’t really communicating much these days as she waits to see what the U.S. attorney’s office has in store.

I ran into Jones at Cook County Democratic slatemaking days after my earlier story ran. He joked that he knew where the money went.

“Frost took it with him,” Jones said.

That wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

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