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From Chicago comes an allegation that a sitting U.S. senator fudged his campaign spending reports to conceal payments to his then girlfriend. In this case, it's a Republican senator, freshman Mark Kirk.
Kirk's ex-wife, Kimberly Vertolli, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over how his 2010 Senate campaign paid a Dodie McCracken $143,000.
Joining us is reporter Todd Lighty of the Chicago Tribune. Welcome to the program.
TODD LIGHTY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And, first, what does the complaint that Kimberly Vertolli brought against her ex-husband's campaign say?
LIGHTY: Basically, it says that Mark Kirk surreptitiously hid payments to his ex-girlfriend so he didn't have to disclose them publicly.
SIEGEL: She was paid for work that she did on the campaign, but via a contractor, I gather.
LIGHTY: Right. There's no doubt that Dodie McCracken worked on the campaign. She did a lot of crisis communications, media strategy. She worked for a contractor called the Patterson Group, which the Kirk campaign paid $1.85 million for advertising. The Patterson Group then, in turn, paid Dodie McCracken as a subcontractor, and Kirk's position is he did not have to disclose those payment to his - now it's his ex-girlfriend - because she's a subcontractor and, under the Federal Election Commission rules, subcontractors do not have to be disclosed.
SIEGEL: Well, what have you heard about that? Does anyone say that it is a violation if a campaign worker is paid through a contractor, whether it's for the purpose of concealment or just the way the contract happens to be structured?
LIGHTY: The election law experts we talked to said that, if Kirk purposely hid the money given to Ms. McCracken, that could be deemed a violation.
SIEGEL: Next wrinkle. Kimberly Vertolli, the ex-wife, having finalized her divorce from then Congressman Kirk in 2009, was herself put on the payroll of his 2010 senate campaign and she was paid $40,000 for doing what?
LIGHTY: Legal research, the Kirk campaign says, and she did some opposition research. Kimberly Vertolli now says she's come to believe that Kirk paid her money to keep her quiet.
SIEGEL: Yeah. In 2010, Ms. Vertolli gave an interview to Chicago magazine, in which she said that, despite an earlier promise he had made to work to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," Kirk voted against it in the House. She said she couldn't support him because there was a pernicious force on his team wielding a disproportionate amount of negative influence and that was Dodie McCracken.
LIGHTY: And that would be correct. That's what Kimberly Vertolli's view was. Mark Kirk has enjoyed - in Illinois, enjoys a reputation of what some see as a vanishing breed, a moderate Republican. And so his stance, which she saw as a flip-flop on "don't ask, don't tell" was just too much for her.
SIEGEL: That's the interview that took place when? That was August 2010?
LIGHTY: And Kimberly Vertolli says, shortly thereafter, the Kirk campaign called her up and wanted to know if she wanted to join the campaign.
SIEGEL: So both she, the accuser here, the ex-wife, Kimberly Vertolli, and Dodie McCracken were both working for Senator Kirk's election to the Senate?
LIGHTY: That is correct and neither one of their names show up in the financial disclosure forms the Kirk campaign has filed. McCracken's doesn't show up because she was paid as a subcontractor and Kimberly Vertolli's name doesn't show up because she was paid through a corporate entity she had created called Athens and Sparta. She says that corporate entity, in which she does do legal business from - it wasn't just for the campaign.
SIEGEL: Well, Todd Lighty, thanks for talking with us.
LIGHTY: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's reporter Todd Lighty of the Chicago Tribune.
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