SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Little more than a year after its leader notched 4.2 percent of the vote in the 2018 governor’s race, the Conservative Party of Illinois has gone underground while its chairman remains under federal investigation.
The party reported no new contributions from donors, recruited no new candidates to run for office in 2020, reported no expenses on new campaign materials, and does not have a public website.
Despite the dormant political operation with no visible activity, the Conservative Party of Illinois still somehow spent $168,665 in secret payroll expenses. The names of the employees were not disclosed. The expenses were listed vaguely through Paychex, a payroll administration company based in New York.
Secret payments from political campaign funds are illegal, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. A spokesman highlighted a section of the law that says, “disclosure of the individual recipient(s) of the payroll expense is required.”
McCann did not answer questions asking whether or not he personally received any of the payments. He did say in an email, “I certainly do not believe there is anything out of line or out of the way with how the party is being run.”
Illinois election law prohibits politicians from paying themselves directly out of their campaign committee accounts. After his 2018 election loss, McCann transferred $1.3 million from his campaign account into the Conservative Party of Illinois fund. To this date, the party has reported no other donors. By laundering his candidate campaign funds through the party account, McCann may have created a legal loophole to pay himself.
The Conservative Party of Illinois also spent $9,026 in lease payments, $2,261 on phones, $899 at restaurants, and $910 at Scheels on gifts for campaign volunteers whose names were not disclosed or reported. Many of the party expenses appear similar to expenses McCann routinely made from his candidate campaign fund.
According to the latest campaign finance reports, the party’s cash reserves have dwindled to $107,616. McCann says the party will start to spend less on items like phones as its pot of money continues to shrink.
“I have negotiated the closing of those contracts and there will be no more charges for phones past the 2019 4th quarter report, unless (hopefully until) we are more viable and active,” McCann claimed.
The former candidate, who lists himself as the chairman and executive director of the party, pushed back against questions about his lack of financial support from anyone other than himself.
“I’ve actually received checks from people who say they believe in me and what the Conservative Party of Illinois are trying to do,” he claimed.
“Frankly, I have declined to cash the checks because I know that until the volume of those dollars coming in increase dramatically, we will not be a going concern past 2020.”
According to subpoenas, federal prosecutors sought financial records and tax documents related to former state Senator Sam McCann’s mileage reimbursements, per diem payments, and other expenses.
McCann, a Republican defector who raised money from labor unions tied to House Speaker Michael Madigan, challenged former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner for conservative voters, and cleared five percent of the vote in 81 counties. McCann argues that should qualify the Conservative Party as an established party and open the door to easier ballot access for candidates in county, state and Congressional races.
“We believe this amounts to disenfranchisement, but we currently do not have the resources to mount what would be certain to become an eventual Supreme Court case,” McCann said in an email.
McCann said, “Republicans and Democrats are scared to death of having any real competition,” but conceded his party was likely doomed to fail.
“Without a meaningful remedy to challenges that independent third-parties face in Illinois, the Party and the committee will most likely cease to exist past 2020,” he said. “Not because of lack of effort, but because the fix is in.”