Either Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay is a crook or State Sen. Chris Lauzen is a cowardly hypocrite, depending on which local politician's statements made on Tuesday voters will deem to have the most veracity.
Lauzen produced a stack of documents Tuesday listing campaign contributions to McConnaughay and linked them to individuals and companies who've done business with the county throughout her tenure as the smoke behind a fire of "pay-to-play" politics.
McConnaughay denied the allegations by saying Lauzen's claims are a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to hold her to a standard for campaign financing that the state senator doesn't even follow himself.
Lauzen said his examination of McConnaughay's campaign donations show an 80- to 90-percent correlation between her contributors and people or companies that have received work through the county. That is both the appearance and evidence of a low ethical standard Lauzen vowed to correct. However, when pressed, Lauzen conceded he did not have any evidence or written testimony from any would-be Kane County contractor who said they were shaken down for a campaign contribution that would create definitive evidence of illegal activity.
"I'm not saying that anything is illegal," Lauzen said. "It's just that when you look at the connection and the consistency of what's happening, you form a pattern that I think is not healthy for the Kane County taxpayers. I just follow facts to conclusions. I think it's clear. There's just too much smoke here."
Lauzen is running to be the new Kane County Board chairman. His statements about McConnaughay's donations were a prelude to an attempt to contrast himself with his Republican primary opponent, Kevin Burns. Burns said last week the county already does a good job with ethics and transparency.
Lauzen pledged to enact policies that would remove even the perception of pay-to-play in Kane County. He said the county must enact an ethics ordinance with real teeth, a task it's struggled to do for more than a year now.
Part of his plan involves full disclosure of all campaign contributions from county contractors and their relatives to the chairman and county board members available for public review within 48 hours of receipt of the contributions.
He also called for full disclosure of all campaign contributions by county officials worth more than $150, and a searchable online database of county contracts, bills and legal fees.
Finally, he wants to appoint a three-member volunteer ethics board of local citizens to review any questionable actions by county officials that may be in violation of the ethics code that is eventually put in place.
"Let's just present the facts and let people draw their own conclusions," Lauzen said of his transparency plan.
When told about Lauzen's pay-to-play claims, McConnaughay said Lauzen was presenting distorted facts in an attempt to smear her and make voters believe he's going to fix a problem that doesn't exist.
"Chris Lauzen is a coward," McConnaughay said. "This is a pattern of behavior of his that doesn't surprise me at all. I'm not going to let him treat me like a soccer mom that he thinks is going to lay down and take this from him."
Indeed, McConnaughay said she's ratcheted the county's transparency up throughout her tenure.
She revamped the county's website twice to make contract and employee salary information available to anyone who wants to see it.
She's put in place a procurement process that she herself is not part of. She doesn't vote on any contracts. She doesn't make recommendations on any contracts to the county board. And she doesn't inject any other influence on contract decisions based on campaign contributions, friendships, political alliances or any other factor, she said.
"If there are board members who think that's not true, I want them to look me in the eye and tell me," McConnaughay said. "He's calling me a crook, and he has absolutely not one shred of evidence, and he admits that he has not one shred of evidence."
In fact, McConnaughay pointed to donations Lauzen has received from various PACs, associations and companies, such as ComEd and Ameren, that were impacted by Lauzen's state senate votes over the years as evidence that some politicians aren't swayed in their votes by political contributions.
"How does he get to make these claims and then hold himself to a standard that is based only on 'take my word for it?'"
Lauzen said it's more than his words; it's his actions. He said he's willing to produce proof that he's returned every political contribution ever made to him from any person or group that's tried to collect a favor from him in return or proven to be of ill repute.
"Somebody didn't have to tell me to give it back," Lauzen said. "I just gave it back. This isn't an attack on a person. We haven't convicted anybody here. What this is, is a court of public opinion. What I'm saying is, the pattern is clear. I think we can do things differently in Kane County. But that's going to take someone who says they want reform, not the status quo."