Conservatives still fighting for ballot access in Illinois

By DOUG IBENDAHL • September 3, 2010
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Upon hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal, Mark Twain was famously to have quipped, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”


The seven conservative candidates comprising the Constitution Party’s statewide slate could borrow that line. As expected, the State Board of Elections issued an unfavorable ruling last Friday, but it doesn’t end there. On Wednesday a Petition for Expedited Judicial Review was filed in Cook County Circuit Court. A court hearing has been scheduled for this coming Tuesday in Chicago. The Appellate Court is an option beyond that.


I’m the attorney representing the Constitution Party’s candidates because I think they are good people and I totally disagree with the way my Republican Party has gone after my seven clients – as well as 16 other candidates this summer. (The Illinois Republican Party was behind 11 total objections which included challenges to the entire slates of the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party, plus nine candidates running as independents for U.S. Senate – including at least four African Americans.)


I also have a selfish motive for representing the Constitution Party. As a Republican I can’t in good conscience vote for Democrats who the Democrats don’t want – specifically Mark Kirk and Judy Baar Topinka. And I will especially not vote for anyone who can’t tell the truth – and Kirk and Topinka are two of the most dishonest people I’ve ever met. We can’t build a real GOP around people like that.


As a guy who volunteered for George Ryan in 1998 I’m not making that mistake again. Some dishonest phony can’t simply put an “R” by his or her name and expect my support. I don’t play that game anymore and frankly I’m disgusted when I hear a Republican preaching the “any Republican is better than any Democrat mantra.” I don’t even know what to say to anyone who is blind to the 10 years our Illinois GOP spent in the wilderness thanks to the mistakes made in 1998.


I want some principled choices on the ballot. Randy Stufflebeam who I’ve gotten to know very well over the past two months is one such example. Randy is the Constitution Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate and he’s about as opposite from Mark Kirk as one can be – both in terms of positions on the big issues and honesty. More than once I’ve told Randy Stufflebeam that he should come over to the Republican Party – if we can ever get it cleaned up.


There were a couple of pretty good articles on the Constitution Party’s case this past week – both I thought were fair and balanced.


Bernie Schoenburg’s article from The State Journal-Register is here, and Shira Toeplitz’s story from POLITICO is here.


What I think is really funny is how State GOP Chair Pat Brady keeps dribbling out the truth as more and more sunshine is put on him.


When this case first started, there was just a blanket denial that the Illinois Republican Party was involved in the petition objections. Then Brady eventually acknowledged they were paying for “a lawyer.” A later story had him saying his organization was paying for “lawyers” (in other words, plural). And in the latest story – the one from POLITICO – it’s now up to “a team of attorneys.”


But Pat Brady’s still being far from honest. The lawyers are just the tip of the iceberg. Brady directed most of the paid full-time State Party staff towards preparing and helping litigate 11 objections over the past two months. (We’ve also connected at least one paid staffer from Bill Brady’s campaign.)


Also note in the POLITICO story another lie from Pat Brady. At the end he says, “our position is that we need to preserve the integrity of the ballot . . . It’s not the Constitution Party. We looked at everybody.” That’s just a total crock. Brady’s not about integrity – this has all been about politics. I can guarantee Brady didn’t have his people looking at any candidates – beyond those they thought would “steal” votes from weak “Republicans.” For example I would bet the farm that no Republican spent a second looking at Scott Lee Cohen’s petitions, and he’s probably the most unsavory candidate on the ballot in Illinois this year (and that’s saying a lot). But Cohen got a pass because he’s expected to take more votes from Pat Quinn.


And it doesn’t stop there. The State GOP was even behind the hiring of a private investigator who went out and harvested the Social Security numbers of innocent petition circulators. That private investigator then went on a fishing expedition for dirt. But despite his apparent best efforts, the guy came up with a big goose egg. The objectors did subpoena one poor woman who circulated for the Constitution Party, but the night before she was to be deposed, counsel for the objectors cancelled and never rescheduled. She had nothing interesting to report anyway.


Putting aside how Pat Brady is sending a message that no one in their right mind should ever want to circulate a petition again, none of these substantial expenses are being properly reported by the Illinois Republican Party. And that’s the real fraud in this case. As Republicans, we should all be outraged that our officials are dragging our party into scandal.


The Illinois Republican Party went out and recruited two individuals, Andrew Heffernan and Steve Nekic to be the “official” objectors of record in this case – and 10 others. Despite their supposed concern about the “integrity of the electoral process” – there has yet to be a sighting of either gentleman over the past two months. I’ve seen lots of State GOP staff and lawyers, but no Heffernan or Nekic.


It’s all a sham of course. While Pat Brady constantly whines about “the Chicago Democrats” – in reality he’s worked to outdo them with the dishonest games. The Democrats were behind objections too this summer using their own conduit objectors – but by my count Pat Brady had the Illinois Republican Party behind about twice as many as the Democrats.


This may be a year where a ham sandwich could win some races with an “R” by its name – but I don’t see how we really win anything if our leaders are no better than Chicago Democrats. And at least the Chicago Democrats don’t ride around on high horses pretending they are any better than the other side. Pat Brady does all the time.


A lot of good but gullible people have been donating to the Illinois Republican Party, assuming their money was going to fight the Democrats. But in reality they’ve been unknowingly funding a hidden scheme to keep conservatives and African Americans off the ballot. It’s mostly about protecting Mark Kirk. Pat Brady and his handlers assume we’re all idiots and will vote for their congenital liar if the only alternative is Alexi Giannoulias.


Anyway, wish us luck in court on Tuesday. While we’ve got a very good case and strong arguments, it’s impossible to predict what our chances on appeal might be. Usually one assumes it’s an uphill battle for the side ruled against at the agency level.


But whatever happens on this particular ballot access case, I am confident that if good people will join our cause, we can all bring enough sunshine to change the way the “established” parties bring these objections in the future.


If someone wants to bring an objection to a candidate’s petition papers, that’s fine, have at it. But at a minimum people like Pat Brady should at least have the decency to be honest enough and man enough to put their own name on the objection. And with the real objectors forced out of hiding, there will be fewer harassment objections in the future. That would not only be good news for our democratic process and voter choice, it would also save the taxpayers of Illinois a lot of money as it’s expensive for the State Board of Elections to administer the frivolous games that people like Pat Brady try to play.


If we can bring that change in the Illinois political culture and the law – that will be a huge victory in itself. That will be a major win for real transparency and real reform – regardless whether the Constitution Party’s candidates make it on the ballot this year or not.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.


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