Campaign ethics criticized

By Dan Petrella

Opponents for using county and University resources for her political campaign have criticized Champaign County Board Chairwoman Barbara Wysocki (D-9) recently. State and county ethics laws prohibit anyone from using public resources to conduct campaign business.

She is campaigning for the Democratic primary for County Board. The primary will take place on March 21.

Wysocki sent a letter to College Democrats President Justin Cajindos, junior in LAS, on Feb. 9 thanking him for the opportunity to meet with the group. The letter was written on official County Board letterhead and was mailed using the County Board’s postage meter.

The meeting, which took place on Tuesday, Feb. 7, was an interview with the College Democrats in hopes of earning the group’s endorsement.

Cajindos said when he opened the letter he was shocked to see that it was sent on County Board letterhead.

“It’s not fair for an incumbent to use public resources without paying for them when their opponents have to raise funds for the same kind of resources and services,” he said.

The letter opens, “Thank you for the opportunity to meet with the College Dems on Tuesday evening and share some information about our primary campaign.”

After receiving the letter, Cajindos alerted Bob Kirchner, Wysocki’s opponent in the primary.

“She had every opportunity to refrain from using country resources to produce it . where do you draw the line?” Kirchner said. “The law codifies that, at the least, it’s against the law to use your government facilities to campaign.”

Wysocki said she wrote the note on County Board letterhead as a “reflex action” because most of her correspondences are written on the letterhead. She said the letter was “basically a thank you note.”

“I reimbursed the county for the expense,” Wysocki said. “I think it’s a toss up whether someone considers it political or just a common courtesy of the office. If Mr. Kirchner is charging that it is political, I reimbursed the county for it. I think the matter is over.”

Kirchner pointed out that Wysocki listed her office address and phone number at the Brookens Administrative Center as the contact information for her campaign in a January Champaign County Democrats newsletter. The other three candidates for the primary all listed private addresses and phone numbers.

The News-Gazette reported Friday that Wysocki, a retired employee of the University Laboratory High School, had been using her University e-mail address to conduct campaign-related business. A University e-mail account is considered a state resource and cannot be used for political campaigning. Wysocki said she changed the address after it was brought to her attention.

“Her response reflects the degree of concern and awareness that she has about not using public resources for a political campaign,” Kirchner said. “I think there should be a heightened awareness when you’re the chair of the County Board.”

Both Cajindos and Kirchner said they feel Wysocki’s actions warrant an investigation by State’s Attorney Julia Rietz’s office.

“As far as I’m concerned the matter is over, I reimbursed the county,” Wysocki said. “The state’s attorney has made it clear that she’s not going to do an investigation over a 39 cent stamp. End of story.”

Since receiving the letter, the College Democrats voted to endorse Kirchner and running mate Lisa Bell in the primary. Cajindos said the letter was one of several factors that lead to the decision.

“The issue never was about 39 cents . you cannot quantify the importance of separating the use of government resources from a political campaign,” Kirchner said.