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Lobbyist controls late pol's campaign fund

Kimme under no obligation to terminate Topinka committee

May 14th, 2019 2:32 PM

By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

More than four years after the death of Judy Baar Topinka her campaign fund still has more than $700,000 in its bank account.

As of March 31, state records show Topinka's campaign committee, Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka, has $711,631.75 in cash on hand. Topinka, a longtime resident of Riverside, died of a stroke on Dec. 10, 2014, slightly more than a month after she was re-elected to a second term as Illinois state comptroller. 

Topinka previously had won three terms as state treasurer, served in the Illinois General Assembly for 14 years and was the Republican candidate for governor in 2006 when she lost to Rod Blagojevich. 

The late legislator created Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka in 1979, when she was gearing up for her first race for the Illinois General Assembly.

Less than a week after Topinka died, paperwork was filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections to make Topinka's former chief of staff, Nancy Kimme, the chairman of Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka.

Since then, the campaign fund has continued to operate, making substantial distributions in the first quarter of 2015 and then lying mostly dormant until last fall -- when it made a $100,000 transfer to the Riverside Township Regular Republican Organization, which Topinka once headed, as well as two $5,000 contributions to Republican state legislators facing tough re-election battles which they ultimately lost. 

State filings show that when Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka is dissolved its assets are to be transferred to the Republican Township Regular Republican Organization.

When that will happen is anyone's guess.

Kimme, who has become a prominent lobbyist in Springfield since Topinka's death, did not respond to repeated phone calls from the Landmark requesting an interview or comment.

Legally, Kimme is under no obligation to dissolve the campaign fund. 

"There is no set timeline that requires them to file for termination," said Matt Dietrich, spokesman for Illinois State Board of Elections. "As long as they continue to file their paperwork they're good with us, and there's no requirement that that committee ever terminate."

But the leader of one reform group thinks Kimme has an ethical obligation to dissolve the campaign fund.

"Even if there's not a legal obligation to close the account, you would think there's an ethical obligation to close the account and dispose of the funds in one of the legally prescribed ways," said Alisa Kaplan, the policy director for Reform for Illinois, a nonpartisan organization that focuses partly on the role of money in politics.

Topinka's son, Joseph, sued Kimme and the campaign fund in 2015 claiming that he, as the executor of his mother's estate was due $341,618.52 from the campaign fund. 

That was the amount in the campaign fund as of June 30, 1998, when Illinois law changed, no longer allow campaign contributions to be converted for personal use. 

But Joseph Topinka lost that suit, and the money remains in the Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka bank account.

Mike Dropka, a North Riverside resident who succeeded Judy Baar Topinka as the chairman of the Riverside Township Regular Republican Organization, declined to comment when asked if he thought Kimme should terminate the campaign committee.

On Oct. 3, 2018, the same day it received the $100,000 from Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka, the Riverside Republicans promptly transferred out $80,000 to other campaign funds. 

The Riverside Republicans gave $50,000 to the campaign fund of House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), $20,000 to the campaign fund of Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, who was locked in a tight re-election battle, and $10,000 to the campaign committee of DuPage County Board President Dan Cronin.

Despite the timing of the money going in and out of the Riverside Republican account, Dropka insisted Kimme played no role in determining where that money would go.

"Nancy Kimme is not on the Riverside Township Republican Organization campaign committee," Dropka said.

Asked why Riverside Republicans donated to Cronin, who leads DuPage County, Dropka said that when Cronin was a state legislator he represented parts of Riverside Township and was a good legislator.

 "I know Dan personally," Dropka said.

DuPage County is a client of Kimme's lobbying firm, Advantage Government Strategies, but Dropka said that had no bearing on the Riverside Republicans' contribution to Cronin's campaign.

"There's no connection," Dropka said. 

The Riverside Republicans did not give any money to local Republican Mark Lorch, a resident of Riverside, who was running for Congress last year in the 4th Congressional District. Dropka said Lorch had no chance to win in the heavily Democratic district. 

Dropka said that the Riverside Republicans support good people who promote good government.

"It's about the person, it's about people, the individual. Are they sticking up for the community, are they representing the community well, are they doing what they're supposed to be doing? It's all about good government," Dropka said.