With Jack Cunningham's return to the Republican ballot in the 11th Congressional District primary, voters may be wondering how the Kane County Clerk, a man who oversees local elections and candidates, wound up booted from the ballot in the first place. The answer may lie in the people he hired to help him in the campaign. In fact, Cunningham's ballot position may not yet be totally secure.
The nature of the objections to Cunningham's petitions involved a "pattern of fraud" including allegations that dozens of signatures on the petitions "appeared to have been written by the same hand," according to legal filings in the objection.
Those types of allegations are not unknown to the man Cunningham hired to oversee the collection of his petition signatures.
Rodney McCulloch was sentenced to 24 months probation, court costs and 150 hours of community service in DuPage County in June 2008. The sentence stemmed from an indictment following his work in a 2005 campaign of then Milton Township Assessor Jim Gumm. Like Cunningham, Gumm had hired McCulloch to oversee his petition signatures. Dozens of the signatures McCulloch collected for Gumm were later deemed to be apparent forgeries written by the same hand. McCulloch blamed flaws in the petitions on three homeless men he said he hired to pass Gumm's petitions. Those homeless men were never found.
Similarly, a certified forensic document examiner from the Minnesota Crime Lab testified many of Cunningham's petitions were signed "by the same hand." Attempts to serve a subpoena on one of the petition circulators McCulloch had working for him were unsuccessful. A valid address for that circulator could not be located. Cunningham's legal team tracked the man down, but offered no rebuttal to forgery testimony.
"It's his same old tricks," said John Fogarty, the attorney for people objecting to Cunningham's petitions. "McCulloch was cutting corners, and it's, frankly, unacceptable."
McCulloch could not be reached for comment.
Cunningham's team was able to reinstate enough of the signatures in question to have the total necessary to appear on the Republican primary ballot. But his candidacy for the 11th Congressional District may still be foiled by his petitions. Fogarty filed an appeal to the decision that put Cunningham back on the ballot. That appeal may see a ruling by Thursday. If the ruling goes against Cunningham, the most likely scenario would leave Cunningham's name on the ballot but toss out any votes he receives.
Cunningham said, given the time and chance to redo all his petitions, he wouldn't have hired McCulloch. Cunningham said the illness and eventual death of his chief deputy in the Kane County Clerk's office during the intense run up to local elections left him with little time to oversee his own petitions.
"In the old days, I could get 200 people out in the streets for me," Cunningham said. "Now, most of my friends are in nursing homes or dead," he added, jokingly.
"I just didn't want to put the people out last minute. I was told (McCulloch and team) were professionals. So I let them handle it. The next time I run for something, I'm going to do it myself. Whatever happened with my petitions this time, I didn't pay close enough attention to it."