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Article updated: 10/31/2012 3:09 PM

Court clerk candidates quarrel over campaign contributions

By Barbara Vitello

Diane Shapiro, Republican candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County has criticized Democratic incumbent Dorothy Brown for accepting campaign contributions from subordinates and from vendors doing business with the clerk's office, whose 2,100 employees are responsible for keeping records for Cook County's unified court system, which ranks among the largest in the world.

Brown, who is seeking her fourth term as court clerk, faced similar charges earlier this year from Chicago alderman Ricardo "Rick" Munoz, who opposed her in the Democratic primary. She described accepting campaign contributions from companies like Online Information Services, the Alabama vendor that manages Cook County e-filings, as a standard business practice and pointed out that the Cook County Board, not her office, approved the contract.

Shapiro, 56, decried the practice during a Daily Herald interview saying she will report for attempted bribery any vendor who tries to donate to her campaign.

"I will never accept a penny (in campaign contributions) from a vendor," said the Chicago resident, who retired in 2009 after working 30 years for Cook County, the last 15 as an adult probation officer.

"Have we not had enough of (officials) using their elected position as a piggy bank?" said Shapiro, who stated that if elected, she will "start from square one" in a search for a new e-filing service provider.

During a Daily Herald interview, Brown said her office reviews, evaluates and makes recommendations to the County Board, whose members accept or reject those recommendations. To avoid a conflict of interest, Brown, 59, says she "made a personal decision" to "not participate in an evaluation process" or a review of contracts.

Shapiro also blasted Brown for accepting campaign donations from employees, a practice she calls "absolutely inexcusable."

"I am not running for office to make money," said Shapiro, who is in her second term as Republican Committeeman for Chicago's 46th Ward.

Brown stated in her candidate questionnaire that she complies with all campaign finance laws and strictly enforces the Cook County Board of Ethics policy prohibiting officials from intimidating or compelling employees into making political contributions. She also cited a 2004 Cook County Inspector General's Report which found no information supporting allegations that Brown pressured employees into donating to her campaign.

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