An aggressive fundraising letter from incumbent Oak Lawn Trustee Tim Desmond (District 1) crossed an ethical line whereby he used the power of his office for his personal political pursuit, according to a leading national ethics expert. With his recent fundraising letter, he may even have crossed a line with his biggest supporter, Mayor Sandra Bury, who has steadfastly claimed that aggressive fundraising can be considered a “shake down”.
Desmond recently sent out a fundraising letter to multiple companies and individuals doing business with the Village of Oak Lawn. The letter, signed by Desmond as a Village Trustee, specifically refers to the fact that the vendors being solicited have not previously donated to Desmond and expresses his feelings regarding that failure to contribute. It states, “I’m disappointed you weren’t able to attend either of my two fundraisers (in September and December) but I remain hopeful you still might be able to help me with my re-election efforts.”
Three companies with contracts with the village admitted that they received the letter. None of the companies would agree to be quoted on the record for fear of losing their contracts.
According to Hana Callaghan, the director of the Government Ethics Program at the Markkula Center at St. Clara University, letters such as Desmond’s are “problematic”.
According to Callaghan, a leading national ethics expert, the general principle is that elected officials are stewards of the public trust. As stewards of the public trust, elected officials have a duty to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
The fact that Desmond’s letter notes that he knows the contractors and vendors have not donated to him in the past is “problematic” according to Callaghan. “There is an implied threat that if the person doing business with the village doesn’t donate to his fundraiser they won’t get any future business”, said Callaghan.
It is a similar view as espoused last year by Sandra Bury when she claimed that her opponents were raising money from vendors. Specifically, she and Village Clerk Jane Quinlan claimed that Trustee Robert Streit had volunteers calling businesses, even after they had said “no.”
Businesses are routinely asked for donations many times after they have politely said, “No thank you.” One businessman complained that he was asked an additional 5 times to donate after he already said no. In the old days, this would be called being “shaken down.” Thankfully those days are over in the the Village of Oak Lawn.
—Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury
The Streit volunteers who made those calls, including a woman in her late seventies, appeared at a Village Board meeting to correct both Bury’s and Quinlan’s statements. Despite knowing the statement was false, Bury repeated the claims again as recently as January 25th of this year on the internet. Bury has not produced any businessman to support her claims. Bury has refused to make any comments to the Oak Lawn Leaf. As such, it is not known if she believes that Desmond’s attempts at fundraising would be considered “shake downs” by her definition.
Callaghan said that she could not offer an opinion as to whether the solicitation violates Illinois laws. However, the use of Desmond’s office creates an ethical problem. She said that the problem with Desmond’s heavy handed approach is that he is using the “power of his office for his personal political pursuit”.
For Desmond, this is not the first time that he has found himself in legal trouble regarding campaign financing. Desmond has already been found in violation of the State’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws for failing to properly report campaign contributions. He blamed his accountant and hired election law expert Burt Odelson as his attorney to reduce the amount of the fine levied against him for the violation. Odelson reportedly provided free legal work to Desmond saying that the two men were “friends”. Odelson was later given a no bid contract by the Village, which Desmond has repeatedly defended.
Tim Desmond was not available for comment.