When DuPage County Forest Preserve President Dewey Pierotti and two commissioners recently accepted a campaign contribution from the district's law firm, they didn't break any laws.
However, the three Republicans seeking re-election inadvertently gave their Democratic opponents the opportunity to make some political hay a week before the election.
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Dennis Clark, Pierotti's challenger, and his fellow Democrats have issued a joint statement accusing the incumbents of making ethical missteps because of the campaign contributions and no-bid contracts for professional services.
"When you examine our opponents' campaign finance filings on the State Board of Elections website, you will find a who's who of contractors and partners of the firms doing business with the forest preserve," said Eric Bergman, who is running against District 4 Commissioner Mike Formento. "This is exactly the reason that Illinois has become the laughing stock of the nation."
In the statement, the Democrats highlighted the recent $1,000 donations Pierotti, Formento and District 2 Commissioner Joseph Cantore each received from the firm of Kuhn, Mitchell, Moss, Mork & Lechowicz, LLC. Robert Mork is the district's main attorney and regularly attends meetings.
Cantore, who is being challenged by Hilary Denk, said there is nothing wrong with the contribution even though commissioners vote on the firm's contract.
"As a private citizen and taxpayer, anybody is free to give money to whoever they wish," he said. "That donation isn't predicated on him (Mork) having a job."
Cantore said the reason Mork has done work for the district for more than two decades is because he does "a fantastic job" and has "saved the district an awful lot of money."
"He is one of the district's most trusted employees," Cantore said.
While she concedes the contributions are perfectly legal, Denk said they create "an appearance of conflict of interest."
"You should not be taking campaign money from any organization that's doing business with the forest preserve," Denk said.
On Tuesday, Mork chimed in by saying his firm's contributions were made because Pierotti, Formento and Cantore are "good elected officials."
"I look at this forest preserve board that we have and all of them are dedicated to doing what's in the best interest of the district," he said. "And that's what you want."
Mork went on to call the Democratic opponents' claims about no-bid contracts and change orders "ridiculous, unfounded and untrue."
For example, Mork said, the district "strictly adhered to the law" when it awarded a $350,000 contract for architectural and engineering work related to a proposed fleet maintenance garage.
When it comes to modifying existing contracts, Formento said he strongly disagrees with Clark's claim that the board has "blindly" approved change orders.
"If the contract is not right and in the best interest of the people, you can never, never get a vote from me," Formento said.
Pierotti said the Democrats are using "gutter politics" in the campaign because they don't have real issues.
"If you don't have any good meat to sell, you try to sell some phony sizzle," he said. "There's no basis for any of these allegations. I think the people of DuPage County are smart enough to see right through all that."