Nonexistent judicial group attempts to sway voters

Texas Primary Election

DEWITT COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — A political action group that isn’t registered with the state and is billing itself as a “judicial” group despite having no judges affiliated with it is attempting to sway voters in DeWitt County.

Earlier this week, some residents discovered bright neon postcards in their mailboxes, addressed to them by name from the DeWitt County Judicial Review.

The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the county’s state’s attorney race — incumbent Dan Markwell and Clinton-based attorney Stephanie Scoles — were lined up on one side of the postcard and ranked by their accomplishments, which skewed in favor of Markwell.

Markwell was also the only candidate to be “Recommended by (the) DeWitt County Judicial Review Board” on the postcard, which also included a disclaimer that said the postcard was “not affiliated with candidates for Dewitt County State’s Attorney Primary.”

WCIA reached out to both candidates for comment: Markwell did not respond to an email request for comment and the DeWitt County State’s Attorney’s Office would not comment on whether or not the group was legitimate.

Scoles responded with a written statement via email, saying her “position regarding the mailing is neutral as I do not have any direct knowledge of a group by that particular name, nor have I been contacted by or spoken to any person or group claiming to have an affiliation with that particular name.”

Joan Rhoades was one of several county residents to receive the mailer. She said she doesn’t normally even read political advertisements, but this group’s name caught her.

“I thought it was a subcommittee of the Illinois State Bar Association,” she said of the group’s name. “I was irritated when I heard there was no such thing. I wanted the facts — I wanted to judge based on the research I’ve done.”

Rhoades said her first step was to call the courthouse, where she reached an assistant state’s attorney who told her he wasn’t familiar with the group.

When reached by WCIA, Chief Judge Karle Koritz said there are “no DeWitt County judges that are a part of that group.” Koritz added that he had not heard of the name until the mailer surfaced in mailboxes across the area.

The name, however, had residents like Rhoades doing a double-take, wondering if the county had such a review group that had gone unnoticed until now.

But the Illinois State Board of Elections didn’t have any records on the group, either.

Political action committees are “not required to register with us until they raise or spend $5,000 in a 12-month period,” spokesperson Matt Dietrich said. “That actually happens quite a bit: They have to hit that threshold; they are free to do as they please until that time.”

The only contact information for the group was a post office box in Farmer City — box 12.

DeWitt County Republican chair Dustin Peterson did not respond to requests for comment, although vice-chairman Moe Winstead did.

Winstead said the party has remained “neutral” regarding who to support in the primary election due to bylaws that prevent the party from picking one candidate or the other.

Winstead added that individuals in the party are personally free to support whichever candidate they choose and that, for him, the choice is Markwell. But both personally and as vice-chair of the DeWitt County GOP, he went on, “there is absolutely nothing that ties me and that group together.”

Calls to members of the DeWitt County Democrats weren’t immediately answered.

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