HELP! Illinois County Sends Schock a Bill for Special Election

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[Image courtesy of feelnumb]

I’ve covered the issue of special elections a lot recently, focusing especially on the financial burden they can place on election offices. Last week, though, Illinois’ Marshall County opened up a new front in the battle to cover election costs, sending a letter to resigning U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock asking that he use some of his remaining campaign funds to cover the county’s costs to replace him. The Peoria Journal Star has more:

The Marshall County Board wants former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock to pay the $76,000 in unbudgeted county costs for special elections to fill the 18th Congressional District seat he abandoned.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to send the Peoria Republican a letter [link here] requesting the reimbursement. Schock resigned last month following controversy over his use of taxpayer and campaign funds.

The costs for the special primary and general election have been estimated at $38,000 each, officials said. In a vein somewhat similar to a collection letter, the board offers Schock options of sending either the full amount or an agreement stating that he will pay later.

“If you choose to forward an agreement, we will provide an itemized statement of the costs following the election,” states the letter signed by all 10 board members present at the end of the meeting. “If you choose to send the $76,000 requested, we will accept it on behalf of the citizens of Marshall County as payment in full for the costs of the special election.”

It’s especially striking that the letter was unanimous – suggesting that whatever partisanship might exist in the race to replace Schock, there is bipartisan agreement that he should help pay for the election to do so.

In addition, Marshall County’s letter may be setting the stage for other affected counties to send their own requests for payment:

Chairman Gary Kroeschen and State’s Attorney Paul Bauer said discussions of sending such a letter started before a recent Journal Star column by Phil Luciano suggested Schock use his $3.3-million campaign fund to cover such costs. Luciano quoted a former federal election official stating Schock could use the money for that purpose.

“Schock has more money (in that fund) than the county has in its reserves,” Bauer said.
Copies of the letter will also be sent to various other officials, including the 20 other voting entities in the 18th District.

“There are other counties who are interested, and they’re kind of waiting on someone to step forward,” Kroeschen said.

“So we’re going to be ground-breakers?” asked member Brad Lindstrom.
That’s the right way to put it, Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman said. He has been outspoken about the costs associated with the election, and had spoken with Kroeschen about the issue.

“You know what, they really are (ground-breakers),” Zimmerman said. “I tip my hat to them for that.”

Zimmerman, whose county is expected to incur costs of around $200,000 for the elections, said a Tazewell committee will discuss the topic on April 22, followed by possible board action a week later. He said he hoped Marshall County’s action leads others to take similar steps.

The County knows its request isn’t legally binding, but is proceeding nonetheless:

Kroeschen … noted the county has no power to compel payment.

“I don’t know if we’ll get any money,” he said.

But if Marshall County inspires others, increased attention to the financial hardships caused by the special election might eventually get results, Zimmerman observed.

“I really think it’s the right thing to do,” Zimmerman said. “Even a partial reimbursement would help.”

I’ll be curious to see if this approach works; if nothing else, it’s highlighting the problem created for localities by special elections – and suggesting a new way for them to get a little help from the very individuals who create the vacancies in the first place.

This one is fascinating – stay tuned …

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