Tom Kacich | Faraci has role in allotting Bennett campaign funds

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When state Sen. Scott Bennett died suddenly last month, he left a substantial campaign fund balance that now amounts to nearly $420,000. Equally substantial are the number of options for what to do with it.

One intriguing one is for his newly appointed successor, Paul Faraci, who became treasurer of the Bennett campaign fund 18 days after the senator’s death, to transfer some of the money to his own campaign account. That would give Faraci a head start on any challengers he would face in the 2024 primary or general elections.

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, has already amended her campaign committee statement to say that she is a candidate in the 52nd Illinois Senate District. And she’s received her first campaign contribution: $1,000 from the campaign account of state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria.

Faraci would not be able to repurpose the Bennett campaign committee to make it his own and take all of the money, said Matt Dietrich of the Illinois State Board of Elections. But he could transfer funds from the Bennett committee to a Faraci committee (none has been formed yet) at up $68,500 per election cycle.

“Or they could transfer out to several candidate committees, in increments of $68,500, down to wherever they want it to be and then they could close it and give whatever is remaining to charity or another committee,” Dietrich said, explaining that “they” is Faraci, the only remaining officer of the Bennett committee. “But he can’t just assume all of those contributions for himself.”

Faraci said Friday that no decision has been made about the disposition of the campaign funds.

“Stacy (Bennett, the late senator’s widow), in a moment of crisis, looked at me and asked if I would be willing to serve as treasurer of the fund,” he said. “I said, ‘Stacy, whatever you need.’ At the time, I hadn’t given any thought to applying for the Senate seat.”

Having been appointed to the seat two weeks ago, Faraci said he hasn’t discussed the campaign fund with Stacy Bennett.

“As far as I’m concerned, Stacy is in charge of it,” he said. “I’ll do whatever she asks me to do.

“It’s not even on my radar. And I think it would be poor timing to me to even ask about it now. That time will come.”

When Sen. Bennett formed his campaign committee in 2015, he wrote that any residual funds left when it was dissolved or terminated would go to the Crisis Nursery. Dietrich said that Faraci, as campaign fund treasurer, isn’t bound by that.

“That’s just what they put on their original statement of organization. They’re not bound by that and they can change that at any time,” he said. “They can make a new decision at the time they close the committee.”

Another alternative is for the Bennett committee to continue to operate, collecting and spending funds and making quarterly reports. At least two campaign funds exist in Illinois for politicians who have been dead for years: one for former state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who died in 2014, and another for George Dunne, president of the Cook County Board for 22 years, who died in 2006.

One option not available for the $418,453 remaining in the Bennett for Senate campaign fund is for the proceeds to go to Sen. Bennett’s family. Only committees formed before July 1, 1988, can use campaign funds for personal expenses.

“It used to be that when a candidate closed a committee, the candidate could simply take that money. It was their money,” Dietrich said. “But that has been changed, and it wouldn’t apply in his case.”

While the nearly $420,000 in the Bennett campaign fund is significant, it’s not the greatest sum among active or recently retired central Illinois senators. Former state Sen. Jason Barickman, the Bloomington Republican who retired earlier this month, has $723,527 in his account. State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, has $353,372. Newly appointed state Sen. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City, who replaced Barickman and is Scott Bennett’s uncle, has almost $200,000. But veteran state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, has just $77,396 in his fund.

$1.2 million race

Last year’s race in the 104th Illinois House District between incumbent Republican Mike Marron of rural Fithian and Democrat Cindy Cunningham of rural St. Joseph ended up as one of the most expensive in the state, with expenditures of more than $1.2 million. That compares with the approximately $300,000 the pair spent in their matchup two years earlier.

Democrats believed they had a chance to upset Marron in the redrawn district and invested heavily in Cunningham, who lost for the third consecutive election, this time by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

Much of the money spent on the two campaigns came from party and leadership groups, including the Democratic Party of Illinois ($178,588) and Democrats for the Illinois House ($443,704) to Cunningham. Marron received more than $65,000 from the Illinois Republican Party, $16,666 from the House Republican Majority and $51,000 from the campaign fund of former House Republican leader Jim Durkin.

Marron, a moderate Republican who is not a part of the conservative Republican Freedom Caucus, also received campaign contributions from a number of organized labor groups: the Chicagoland Operators Joint Labor Management PAC, $27,000; the Downstate Operators Joint Labor Management PAC, $7,500; the Illinois Education Association, $25,000; the Illinois Laborers Legislative Committee, $10,000; the Illinois Federation of Teachers, $5,000; Laborers Local 703 in Urbana, $10,000; and the Laborers International Union of Chicago, $15,000.

Despite the hefty spending in the Cunningham-Marron race, it wasn’t even the most costly House race in central Illinois last year. That distinction goes to the 91st District contest in an area that includes much of Bloomington-Normal. In the newly drawn district formerly represented by state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, Democrat Sharon Chung defeated Scott Preston. More than $1.7 million was spent on the candidates.

Champaign County judge race

The circuit judge race between incumbent Republican Judge Sam Limentato and Democratic challenger Chad Beckett proved to be the most expensive countywide race in Champaign County.

Limentato, who was appointed to the position in May 2020, spent nearly $138,000 last year on the election. That includes a personal loan to his campaign that originally amounted to more than $80,000 but is now $53,383.

Limentato’s biggest donors were the Champaign County Republican Party, nearly $5,700; the Middle Ground PAC, originally started by the late U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, $5,000; the Bloomington law firm of Allison & Mosby-Scott, $5,000; and the Peoria law firm of Goldfine & Bowles, $2,500.

Beckett, who won the race by 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent, spent about $12,725, much of it out of his own pocket. His only itemized contribution reported was $2,000 from Mark Krug of Alberton, Mont.

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January 23, 2023 at 06:54AM

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