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Challenger knocks attorney donations to incumbent on property tax appeals board

Sean M. Morrison

A lawsuit involving female martial arts fighters, charges of electioneering and campaign finance shenanigans – these are the arrows flying over a relatively obscure but important seat on Cook County’s property tax appeals board.

The two Republicans duking it out in Tuesday’s primary are incumbent Dan Patlak, 50, of Wheeling, and security-firm owner Sean Morrison, 44, of Palos Park. While the winner will face Democrat Casey Thomas Griffin of Midlothian in the November general election, Tuesday’s match could be decisive for Patlak and Morrison given the First District is a Republican stronghold stretching from Chicago Heights on the south to Barrington on the northwest.

The Cook Country Board of Review wields tremendous power since the three-member panel hears property tax appeals from businesses and homeowners looking to slash their tax bills. The two other seats are currently held by Democrats.

Morrison calls Patlak’s acceptance of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from tax attorneys who appeal commercial property cases in front of the tax appeals board classic pay-to-play politics.

“When you give preferential treatment to commercial property owners, it raises the residential property taxes,” Morrison said, explaining that if one property owner is given a break, others have to pay more to make up for the lost revenue in the taxing system.

Patlak denies giving preferential treatment to contributors and said that the roughly $200,000 in donations he received from tax attorneys are legal.

“Yes, I’ve raised money from attorneys who’ve practiced in front of the board, but I can tell you this: I’m not a rich person, and I don’t know many rich people, and so I’ve got to raise money to be able to run a campaign against my opponent,” Patlak said.

That’s a shot at Morrison, whom Patlak says has deep pockets and is largely self-financed.

Morrison says: “I’ve raised some money on the outside but I’m mostly self-funding the race – and I don’t apologize for that. . . . I’m a successful businessman.”

And if he wins, Morrison vows, he’ll personally cap contributions from tax attorneys doing business before the board at $250 in an election cycle.

Morrison also accused Patlak of electioneering after seeking campaign donations at a November 2011 event advertised on a county government website as a tax appeals seminar.

Patlak acknowledged what he described as his error for putting the Nov. 30th Tinley Orland Palos Tea Party event on the Board of Review website. Morrison filed a complaint with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office about the alleged electioneering and has been banging the drum in mailings that his opponent is under investigation by the Cook County state’s attorney – even though the prosecutor’s office has never said as much. To drive that point home, he even sent out a flier featuring a photo of Patlak and recently indicted Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, who is facing tax-evasion charges.

Morrison, too, has been poked in this race. The chairman of the Illinois Republican Party called on him to drop out of the race in late February, when Fox Chicago News reported he had been involved in a series of lawsuits with seven female mixed marshal arts fighters who claimed he owed them money from a reality television show that never materialized.