Source of mailing to remain a mystery

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118235706311287.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘The anonymous mailer endorsed three slate candidates while bashing a fourth.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118235711622832.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘The postal meter number on the mailing was traced to Buckley Construction, but Buckley CEO and President Paul Nicolosi said the mailing was contracted by a third party.’);

The source of a controversial political mailing sent to residents of Roscoe and Rockton will remain cloaked in anonymity thanks to a 1995 Supreme Court decision, according to State Board of Elections.

The same decision is credited with preserving the anonymity cherished by internet users.

Shortly before the Hononegah School Board elections in April, a flier was mailed to residents, urging votes for three particular candidates, while maligning a fourth.

The fourth candidate, Kim Hodges, did not win one of the three open seats.

The winning candidates, David Kurlinkus, Matt Kentner and Mary Lewis, ran as a slate against Hodges, but say they had nothing to do with the mailer.

In the mailing, it was alleged Hodges wanted to gain a school board seat to influence the outcome of an ongoing eminent domain case she and husband Chris have been waging with the board. The letter alleged the Hodgeses purchased 23 acres in Roscoe with inside knowledge the board was considering the site for a new high school.

A jury decided in October to set the price-per-acre at $9,100. The Hodgeses are appealing that decision.

Rockton resident Kevin Mueller, and others, noticed the postal meter number on the mailing matched the meter number used by The Buckley Companies, of Rockford.

Buckley President and CEO Paul S. Nicolosi, who also serves as village attorney to Rockton, said the matter was first brought to his attention when Mueller read a letter to the Village Board June 5. Nicolosi told The Rock River Times he was investigating.

A trace later confirmed the meter number is registered to Buckley Construction, one of eight companies in the Buckley family.

June 12, Nicolosi reported the mailing had been contracted through Buckley’s Marketing and Printing Department by a third party.

“Our staff does not review or monitor the content of those documents printed or mailed,” Nicolosi stated. “None of the employees of any company I am associated with was the author of the piece, nor did any of them direct the piece to be sent.”

Although he said the third party was not an officer of a political party or affiliated with any political group, Nicolosi would not reveal the source of the mailing.

Don Craven, attorney for the Illinois Press Association, said, “If it was placed by a PAC [political action committee], it’s a violation of the law.”

Although state election statutes dictate political committees must identify themselves on political literature, Illinois State Board (SBE) of Elections Director of Campaign Disclosure Rupert Borgsmiller explained the same law may not apply in this case.

A 1995 Supreme Court ruling, McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, upheld the right to anonymity for private individuals regarding political speech.

“If I’m an individual, and I go out and I spend my money, and I do not exceed $3,000, I’m not a political committee,” Borgsmiller indicated. “As far as attribution of source is concerned, you don’t have to put that on there.”

According to the SBE web site, “Any individual, trust, partnership, committee, association, corporation, or any other organization or group of persons which receives or spends more than $3,000 on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate or question of public policy, meets the definition of a political committee and must comply with all provisions of the Illinois Campaign Financing Act, including the filing of campaign disclosure reports.”

Asked whether an investigation is warranted, Borgsmiller responded: “My question to you is that, how many of these mailers were mailed out? At 39 cents, you know, how many mailers could be mailed to qualify as a committee?”

“I don’t know if it’s a problem or not,” Borgsmiller added. “If somebody wants to submit to us information regarding anything, we review the information. If we feel that there is something there that needs further clarification or further information, we take that upon ourselves, and we review it.”

Some quick math confirms the source of the mailing is not likely to have violated election laws. The two-sided, two-color mailing appears to have been printed on standard computer printer paper, therefore produced at minimal cost. At 39 cents postage apiece for mailing the political literature, the overall cost of postage appears to fall well short of $3,000.

To reach the $3,000 threshold, 7,692 copies of the flier would need to have been mailed at the rate of 39-cents.

According to the last census, there are 4,141 households in Rockton and Roscoe combined, which would account for only $1,614.99 in postage. Printing of the mailer is not likely to have cost in excess of $1,385.01 to reach the $3,000 threshhold.

Although Craven indicated The Buckley Companies are not required to reveal the source of the anonymous mailing, he said the third party may have to be disclosed as part of an SBE complaint process.

Asked whether he plans to pursue the matter with the SBE, Mueller said he is “definitely considering it.” Hodges could not be reached prior to publication to answer the same question.

from the June 20-26, 2007, issue

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