CHICAGO — The state Board of Elections is looking into a $500,000 "investment" that suddenly disappeared earlier this year from Todd Stroger's campaign filings without any accounting for it.
The disclosure comes as the former Cook County Board president tells DNAinfo.com Chicago he has no plans to run for the congressional seat formerly held by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
According to state documents submitted by Friends of Todd H. Stroger for President of the Cook County Board, Stroger put the campaign cash in two certificates of deposit at the Amalgamated Bank in Chicago. He left the money unspent while running for re-election and finished last to Toni Preckwinkle in a four-person race in the Democratic primary. Preckwinkle went on to victory in the 2010 general election.
Listed as an "investment," the $500,000 continued to appear on quarterly filings until March, but then suddenly disappeared in the filings for the second and third quarters. There was no accounting for the loss, although previous filings also cited a $215,000 debt owed to Amalgamated Bank. Reference to that debt also disappeared.
"That's just not right," said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. "They have to make an accounting of that. So they've basically filed something that's incomplete. And that's a charitable characterization."
Jim Tenuto, assistant executive director of the Board of Elections, confirmed the agency is looking into what he terms for now an "inconsistency."
"There's no investigation," Tenuto said. "I don't want to imply that there's something wrong."
Yet, according to Tenuto, board staffers noted the discrepancy in the second half of this year and sent a formal letter to the committee "to request an explanation as to why."
"So we're waiting for an answer," he said. "That's where it's at right now."
In an interview, Stroger said the filing was done in error.
"That money, it was a filing that was incorrect," Stroger said. "Honestly, I have to go through all the statements — you know it's hard to get volunteers when you're not elected — and figure out where that mistake is. I suspect we'll have to go through all the statements and see where everything flew."
Stroger insisted the expenditures were legitimate, but allowed the state filings are "a big mistake."
He added, "I need to correct that before they put a big fine on me or something." He promised to make "an amended filing that is accurate."
He said the money was spent while he was in office and running for re-election.
"If I had that kind of money, I'd probably be spending it on somebody running for something," Stroger said. "I wouldn't let it just sit there. I'd probably use it to help people I knew."
Stroger told the Sun-Times last week he was interested in running for the congressional seat occupied by Jackson Jr. until Jackson's resignation Wednesday, but Stroger abruptly reversed field on that Monday, saying he wants to spend more time with his family and his 9- and 12-year-old children.
"I'd prefer to be around them when they're at these ages," he said.
As it stands, the Stroger campaign committee reported $112,000 in "available" funds through September. In the past, politicians leaving office could simply pocket their campaign war chests if they cited it as income on their tax returns. But changes in state law barred politicians for using the money for personal gain, although charitable donations and other political activity, such as contributing to another campaign fund, are OK.
Even at that, Stroger can't divert it to a campaign to run for Congress in the upcoming special election for the 2nd District seat, for himself or anyone else, because it's a federal office.
"You can't use money that's raised under rules that are less strict than the contribution-limit rules that the feds operate under," Redfield said. The Federal Election Commission also confirmed that Illinois state funds could not legally be transferred to a congressional campaign fund.
Stroger followed in the footsteps of his late father, John Stroger, as Cook County Board president in 2006, but was "inept" and left the county a "mess," in the words of Preckwinkle. His staffers Eugene Mullins and Carla Oglesby are both facing federal trials on charges of corruption for actions under his administration.
"This is not shocking that we have financial irregularities with the Stroger family," Redfield said.