Saturday, June 06, 2015

Richard C. Cooke kicks off 2016 campaign -- and the potential unintended consequences of a campaign loan

Appearing before the Cook County Democratic Party's judicial slatemakers in August 2013, Richard C. Cooke did not flinch when asked whether he would run against the Party if left off the ticket. If you don't slate me today, Cooke said, "consider this my 2016 kick-off then."

Cooke wasn't slated in 2013, but he has kicked-off his 2016 judicial candidacy in a big way -- one that may have an impact on many Cook County judicial campaigns this primary season -- or maybe not -- but we will come to that in time.

First, we introduce Cooke. Licensed as an attorney in Illinois since 1992, Cooke began his legal career doing subrogation work for Northbrook attorney Michael R. Kuzel and, later, in-house for CNA Insurance Companies. Since 1997, Cooke has operated his own firm, carving out a niche for himself in the petroleum industry, with a focus on Illinois EPA regulatory statutes and underground storage tank issues. His résumé notes that he's drafted sample facility EPA compliance and operation manuals that are in use at gas stations throughout Illinois. Along the way, Cooke says he's had over 200 bench trials and over 25 jury verdicts -- and, since 2008, he's operated a self-funded free legal aid clinic for needy families and individuals in the Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods.

Cooke's current campaign committee was set up on April 16, 2015, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website. It's what he did on April 21, however, that is newsworthy. On that date, Cooke loaned his committee $500,000.

No, that's not a misprint.

I confirmed the loan in a conversation with Cooke earlier this week. Cooke is serious about winning election to the bench, he told me, but reluctant to hit up friends, family and clients for campaign donations. He had the wherewithal, Cooke said, to self-fund a strong, credible campaign -- and so he loaned his campaign the half a million.

Nice story, right? The independence and impartiality of the judiciary is of vital import to continued public confidence in our courts. Many serious observers are worried about the potentially corrupting influence of money in electoral politics and particularly in judicial elections. Raising campaign funds makes a lot of potential judicial candidates uneasy. So it's tempting to stop the story right here -- with a candidate who has (spectacularly) demonstrated an ability to avoid the whole troublesome question of fundraising.

But this is Illinois. And Cooke's actions -- well-intentioned as they may be -- may have unintended consequences.

Readers may recall the name William J. Kelly from the Chicago mayoral election just past. No, his name never appeared on the ballot, even in the primary (he never filed nominating petitions). But Kelly announced that he was running for Mayor of Chicago, formed a committee, and, last October, loaned his campaign $100,000.

Kelly told the Tribune last October that he intended by his action "to level the playing field" in the mayoral race, and perhaps that was his intention -- but it had the effect of blowing the caps off all campaign contributions for all mayoral candidates under Illinois law.

Here's why. Section 9-8.5(h) of the Illinois Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/9-8.5(h), provides, in pertinent part, "If a public official, a candidate, or the public official's or candidate's immediate family contributes or loans to the public official's or candidate's political committee or to other political committees that transfer funds to the public official's or candidate's political committee or makes independent expenditures for the benefit of the public official's or candidate's campaign during the 12 months prior to an election in an aggregate amount of more than (i) $ 250,000 for statewide office or (ii) $ 100,000 for all other elective offices, then * * * all candidates for that office, including the nominee who filed the notification of self-funding, shall be permitted to accept contributions in excess of any contribution limit imposed by subsection (b) for the subsequent election cycle." There are notices that have to be filed, and posted on the ISBE website, and given to other candidates -- but the bottom line is that, once one candidate for a particular office self-funds beyond the statutory limit, all candidates for that office are exempt from contribution limits.

That's easy enough to follow when one is running for mayor or governor -- there's only one of each -- but there are a number of Cook County judicial vacancies. We don't even know all of the judicial vacancies that will be up for election in the 2016 Primary.

So... did a gesture meant to express independence from the arguably corrosive, corrupting influence of campaign donations inadvertently blow the lid off all campaign contribution limits in all Cook County judicial races?

Section 9.8-5(h) is not entirely clear, acknowledged Ken Menzel, General Counsel of the Illinois State Board of Elections. In a telephone conversation with FWIW yesterday, Menzel explained that there would have been less of a problem if the loan had come much later in the election cycle. Right now judicial candidates are, theoretically, potential candidates for many possible vacancies. However, Menzel pointed our that regulations were recently adopted (on May 19, in fact) that may provide guidance. Menzel cited FWIW to Title 26 of the Illinois Administrative Code, Section 100.75. Section 100.75(j)(2) states that, "'Candidate for the same office' shall be determined by candidate petition filings. Prior to the actual filing of petitions for a particular office, a candidate for that office wishing to receive official notice of a Self-Funding Notification from the Board must inform the Board in writing of his or her intention to seek nomination or election to the office in question."

At this point -- since Cooke has not declared for any specific vacancy and petitions can not yet be legally circulated -- it is probably safe to say that campaign finance caps (currently $5,400 from individuals, $10,800 from corporations, labor organizations or associations) remain in place for all judicial campaign committees except Cooke's -- and he's not looking for more money. "That's almost certainly the legislative intent," one prominent election law attorney told me, though he would not comment for the record because of the possibility that this issue might be settled in the courts.

Hopefully, it won't get that far. Judicial candidates are more "risk-averse" than candidates for most offices, Ken Menzel observed, and therefore might not press the issue by seeking or accepting over-large donations. And, even if the ISBE might not cite a judicial campaign committee for accepting campaign contributions in excess of the caps because of the Cooke campaign loan, Menzel noted that, under §9-20 of the Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/9-20, any person who believes that the campaign finance laws have been violated may file a verified complaint with the ISBE, triggering a an administrative process that could wind up in court.

For his part, Cooke has not set his sights on a particular vacancy. In 2013 Cooke said he wouldn't run against the Democratic Party in 2014 if he was not slated, and he didn't. This week Cooke told me that nothing has changed; he still does not plan to run against the Party if he is not slated. On the other hand, the Democratic Party has a half million reasons to listen carefully to Cooke's pitch at the next slating meeting.


Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting but the plot is about to thicken real quick if Mr. Cooke decides to run in the 6th sub-circuit. And that's because Mr. Cooke, who is white, probably has a right to run there. After all, he has deep ties to the predominently Puerto Rican political and business community in that area. What is being kept on the down-low (well, up until now) is that a real interloper, by the name of Mary Kay Dawson, has packed up her carpet-bag and is on her way to the north-side. She is going to work for a candidate by the name of Anna Loftus, who is also white, but hails from the 47th Ward enclave of Lincoln Square. Dawson, a hack from Frank Zuccarelli's Thronton Township's political organization, in Calumet City, is on her way to dance with the Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park. This is going to be so much fun. Stay tuned my friends. E.P.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused by the earlier comment. Cooke's quote to Mr. Leyhane was that he would let the party leaders choose where he ran, if they slated him. I saw nothing in the piece about the 6th subcircuit. Am I missing something? And I am also confused about the vitriol of the post and implied message that the 6th sub is somehow entirely Hispanic and therefore cannot and should not elect a Caucasian. I live in the 6th, in Wicker Park/Bucktown, and the vast majority of my neighbors, for at least a 2 mile radius, are predominantly white, although the area is diverse -- that is part of its appeal to those who live there. Can't Mr. Cooke and Ms. Loftus run there as well as Hispanic candidates? It is the people who elect them. Are Cooke and Loftus, ab initio, unqualified to serve the people of the 6th simply because of their race? I'd really like E.P. to explain the post.

Anonymous said...

Dear Confused,
Please allow me to lift the fog of confusion from your very soul. The way I deduced that Mr. Cooke had set his sights on the 6th sub-circuit was by simply taking a look at the discourse statement that was referenced in the posting. I just went to our State Board of Election's website and bam...there it is. An address in the 6th sub-circuit.

And I think you are confusing vitriol with passion. As you can clearly tell by my writing style, it is meant to inspire debate. Bland words just don't do that. And it was focused on a political operative who is on her way north to tussle with the Puerto Ricans.

As for the claim that I somehow implied that a Caucasian should not run in the 6th because it was drawn with a super-majority Puerto Rican population is to miss the point I made about Mr. Cooke's right to run. I even extolled on his right to run based on his ties the Puerto Rican political and business community. As for Ms. Loftus, who lives way up north in Lincoln Square, (by Lawrence and Western Avenues) I bet she has never stepped one foot in Humboldt Park. She wouldn't know a Jibarito sandwich from a Big Mac. However, from what I am told, she's a nice and gentle sort of gal but her political god-father didn't do her any favors by throwing her in the 6th. He could have waited for a county-wide vacancy for her. Now I'm not sure what part of Wicker Park or Bucktown you live in, but there is no doubt that that area no longer reflects the legislative intent behind the creation of the sub-circuits in the first place. That issue is currently being debated in our state capitol as the sub-circuits have not been redrawn since they were first created pursuant to the 1990 U. S. Census. But don't worry, once that is squared away in Springfield, your neighborhood will join a majority white sub-circuit and make a lot of people very happy. But I must add, I think the Puerto Ricans will have the biggest party since they will have gotten rid of those pesky little precincts on the eastern end of the current map. And that's because the intent of the sub-circuits was to guarantee the election of minorities to the bench and have the judiciary be reflective of the population at large. And on front, we have failed miserably. To this day, although Hispanics make up a whopping 25% of the total population in Cook County (33% of the population in the City of Chicago) less then 4% of the elected judges in the county are Hispanics. So yeah, Hispanics are going to keep a real close eye on who decides to run in 6th and also on the carpet-baggers that come in to support out-siders and interlopers. The legislative intent and the protection of these sub-circuits will be the order of the day in the months to come.

"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold" and she's on her way up to Humboldt Park to dance with the Puerto Ricans. But as they say on Division Street, "no te vistas que no vas". It's not Latin like "ab initio" which means "from the get go" but it sure has a special meaning for the Puerto Ricans in my backyard. As always, EP

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...
E.P., enjoy your comments on this blog; funny and insightful. I may not agree with all you have to say, but your point of view causes me to think and I appreciate that.

Regarding another comment of yours about the 6th sub-circuit and the person that you identified, I nearly fell off my chair when I read your comment. I had not heard this name in years. I worked against her in the late 90's or early 2000 on a Circuit Court Clerk campaign. Suffice it to say, you were tremendously kind in your description and showed great restraint. I am surprised she is still ruffling feathers this many years later as she seemed quite long in the fang back in the 90s. Chalk one up to the power of Boniva and titanium … not to mention the allure of getting paid to stir-up sh*t and not do much else for a living.

If you are indeed forced into a dance-off in Humboldt Park with this person, I urge the utmost of caution. You may know how to Conga, but she can break out a lot of OITNB-type moves, particularly if you turn your back on her. Rest assured, since you called her out on her sh*t, she’s been seething and watching West Side Story on a non-stop loop to get prepared for the dance-off.

Don't underestimate her abilities. This is not her first time at the rodeo and she has had a lot of dance-offs in her career. She’s been around since Marbury v. Madison was a pocket part, and she got into the judicial consulting business because she babysat Odas Nicholson. In other words, she’s been around the block quite a few times and she ain’t afraid to get REAL dirty. She tends to be like a cyclone, she leaves a wide path of destruction and causalities wherever she goes. Think twice and say the Holy Rosary before you decide to get involved with this woman. If you’ve ever seen a cornered mongoose than you know what I am talking about.

If the 6th sub-circuit is worth the battle and you really want to conga with her, I am warning you now not to wear your ruby slippers whatever you do. The last person who did so had a house with a Thornton Township address dropped on them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 5:14:00 PM

Hello 7-17-15 at 5:14 PM,

E. P. here responding to your fabulous comment.

So the question is "are the Puerto Ricans ready for the Thornton Township Tornado"? The answer is a resounding HELL YEAH followed by a BEEN THERE DONE THAT.

And that's because we've gone toe-to-toe with her once before and ran her and her client out of Humboldt Park on a the rails. The year was 2012 and her client lost even though he spent upwards of $250,000.00 trying to beat the Puerto Rican candidate who won that race. And that's even after they put in a few phony Hispanic candidates in the race to take votes away from the front-runner and eventual winner. It was a sweet to see the Jets running away from the Sharks.

Rumor has it she is already trying the same, old and failed strategy of identifying Hispanics lawyers willing to be used in that fashion. Such a tired, old move. What she doesn't know is, well not until now anyway, is that those very lawyers are calling the Hispanic leadership and letting them know they are being approached to be shills. You see, those lawyers don't want to piss-off the leadership thereby taking themselves out of contention for future opportunities.

By the way, as is the case with the ladies of OITNB, we won't be wearing ruby-red slippers. We'll be the ones sporting combat boots.

So yeah, bring it on little lady. As David Bowie said, "let's dance". But the tunes you will hear won't be salsa, merengue or rock & roll. They will, just as in 2012, be the "sounds of silence".

As always, E. P.

Anonymous said...

One question. Being a River Forest resident, I remember Mr. Cooke losing an election for trustee earlier this year. River Forest is in the 7th Sub-Circuit. I believe Mr. Cooke currently resides on the 1400 block of Jackson Street in River Forest. How is he running in a sub-circuit that he clearly doesn't reside in? Just wondering.

Jack Leyhane said...

Mr. Cooke did seek a trustee position in River Forest. Whether he's moved since, I don't know. Nor do I know, nor have I reported, that he's running in the 6th Subcircuit. Some commenters have speculated... but nothing is official. The law is clear: One does have to live in the subcircuit from which he or she runs, but it says nothing about establishing residency x years out. One can move in, circulate petitions, and then file.

So we'll just wait and see what happens, shall we?

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 5:34:00P.M. Very interesting observation but not quite right. Mr. Cooke is a long-time member of Richard Mell's 33rd Ward Organization in the City of Chicago. Prior to the election which you mention, Cooke's connection to River Forest was nothing more than a real estate investor, actually owning multiple properties on Jackson Avenue for which he sought zoning changes for redevelopment. Voter registration records showed he changed his voter's registration to River Forest just prior to the election. It is speculated he ran for trustee as a "spoiler", to keep another candidate with the same first name off the Board, which he did successfully. Cooke was quoted in the local newspaper as saying the election result was exactly what he expected and was very pleased with the result. It is no secret that Cooke is close friends with River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci and her ultra-powerful Springfield lobbyist husband, Al Ronan. (also a long-time Mell associate) whom, it can be further speculated initiated Cooke's involvement in the Trustee race. Immediately after the River Forest election, Cooke's voter registration records were quickly changed back to Chicago. Such Chicago political tactics are not welcome in River Forest.