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Kennedy hasn’t paid for staff health care—but touts coverage for all

Illinois gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy marches in the 48th Annual Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday, June 25, 2017. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chris Kennedy touted health care coverage as a vital part of the “American dream” this week — yet newly filed campaign expenditures show the Democratic gubernatorial candidate hasn’t paid health insurance costs for his own campaign employees.

The Democrat’s campaign officials says they offered coverage, but no one took them up on it.

That puts Kennedy at odds with at least four other gubernatorial campaigns.

Democrats J.B. Pritzker, state Sen. Daniel Biss and Ald. Ameya Pawar, and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, all listed health insurance payments on campaign disclosure reports due on Monday.

But Kennedy’s health insurance payments are missing.

“It’s something you’d expect to see,” said Sarah Brune, executive director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Kennedy campaign spokeswoman Hanah Jubeh on Thursday said there were no health insurance payments because many on staff are “young” and are still covered under their parents’ insurance, while others opted out. She said staff members that have been recently hired will get health insurance, and it will be reflected on the next required filing. Jubeh, spokesman Mark Bergman and campaign manager Brendan O’Sullivan were already covered through other employers and opted out of coverage through the campaign, she said.

“Recently we’ve had some new staffers who have expressed an interest and we’re in the process of actually executing on that,” Jubeh said. “It’ll be on the next report.”

On Wednesday at a candidate forum in Little Village, Kennedy touted the importance of health care and its connection to the “American dream.”

“I believe that the American dream, therefore, is a civil right. If it is a civil right, then healthcare has to be part of it,” Kennedy said to applause. “Because if it is not, every family, every individual is just one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy, from losing everything that they’ve made in this country. We need to make sure that the American dream is the dream for all Americans. And to do that, we need to make sure that everybody in America is covered by healthcare.”

Kennedy’s campaign filing this week showed he took in $703,767.10 in campaign contributions but spent $652,523.79. The quarterly report filed with the Illinois State of Elections offered a deeper glance into Kennedy’s campaign spending, since many items were missing from his previous report.

In the April filing, Kennedy didn’t list some traditional campaign expenditures, including payments for well-known consultants, rented office space, campaign T-shirts and stickers and travel expenses.

The latest filing shows Kennedy spent $16,755 on rent, with monthly payments of $5,273. Kennedy’s campaign headquarters are in the Merchandise Mart — the building he once managed.

He spent $122,600 on payroll for at least 11 staffers. The first report didn’t list salaries for key staffers such as O’Sullivan and finance director Emma Pieper.

Kennedy spent more than $100,000 on consultants, $90,000 on digital consulting and more than $110,000 on research. Consultant pay was also missing from the first report.

The first report also failed to mention how much Kennedy spent on expenses such as campaign stickers and T-shirts, some of which were evident in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade Kennedy attended in March. The latest filing shows he spent $2,646 for a printing company, and another $4,968.90 for a print and digital company.

Kennedy, the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, announced his candidacy via a video sent to supporters on Feb. 8.  While this is Kennedy’s first campaign, he has been touted as a candidate for Congress, U.S. Senate and governor since the turn of the 21st century.