Kane County Board member files financial ethics complaint against Chairman Lauzen

  • Chris Lauzen

    Chris Lauzen

 
 
Updated 11/16/2020 5:00 PM

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen's tenure will close under the shadow of an ethics complaint centering on a key issue he campaigned to improve.

Board member Matt Hanson filed the complaint last week, alleging a campaign contribution to Lauzen is beyond the amount allowed by the county's ethics ordinance and subverts transparency provisions in the county's procurement process.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The ethics ordinance has been invoked several times since it came on the books and was later amended in 2015. It's never resulted in any formal or informal reprimands, and the last two state's attorneys have said it is more symbolic than enforceable.

The ordinance limits campaign contributions to $2,000 in any calendar year from any contractor that does more than $15,000 of work for the county. Hanson's complaint points to a $2,500 contribution by Cordogan & Clark to Lauzen.

According to the county's online checkbook, the architectural firm has done $1.14 million in business with the county this year.

Hanson also objects to the timing of the Oct. 26 contribution. When the company filed its proposal to remain the county's architect last month, it filled out a disclosure form saying it had made no political contributions to any county elected officials in the last year.

That was true at the time. But it was no longer true when the proposal came to the county board for a review, and Hanson said there is no record of the form being updated or the board being informed of the contribution.

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Brian Kronewitter, an executive vice president with Cordogan & Clark who has been involved in some of the firm's projects with the county, said he was unaware of the complaint.

"I know nothing about this or any donations made in the last 12+ months," Kronewitter said in an email.

John Cordogan, the principal of the firm, could not be reached for comment.

Hanson noticed the contribution in researching local political activity just before the November election. A total of $18,500 in contributions flowed to Lauzen, including Cordogan & Clark's donation.

Lauzen has publicly denied any impropriety stemming from Cordogan & Clark's latest contribution.

"It is not a violation of the ethics ordinance," he said. "We'll have people who are more of a lawyer than I am and you are to get that sorted out."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Even though Lauzen withdrew his candidacy for reelection in January, he has continued to collect campaign contributions to support other candidates.

Campaign finance reports show Cordogan & Clark is a regular Lauzen contributor, donating at least $10,000 since 2016.

The firm has had a no-bid contract with the county for the entirety of Lauzen's tenure, but the county's relationship with the firm precedes that. So does Lauzen's pledge to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or the perception of "systematic political influence to be gained" in trade for campaign cash.

Lauzen made those pledges during his first campaign for chairman in 2012, when the Daily Herald examined contributions to former county board Chair Karen McConnaughay. He doubled down on them during his reelection in 2016.

During both efforts, he was criticized by rivals for not practicing what he preached.

Campaign finance reports continue to show a mixed bag in that regard for Lauzen. A search of recent contributions shows money flowing to Lauzen from firms such as Alarm Detection Systems, the Bronner Group and Geneva Construction Co., among others, that have done business with the county.

In the past year, Lauzen has also made about $12,000 in payments from his campaign fund to his wife, Sarah, for "campaign services."

Lauzen has acknowledged he hasn't had a perfect record on that promise and has returned all questionable contributions when brought to his attention.

That said, the county board voted to delay consideration of a new deal with Cordogan & Clark until a new board and new chairman are sworn in.

The end of Lauzen's tenure may blunt any possible consequences if an ethics ordinance violation is found. Because Lauzen appoints the county's ethics adviser, the matter was sent to the Kane County state's attorney's office. He and the officials in that office have been at odds for most of Lauzen's tenure.

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