ILLINOIS (WCIA) — House Republican David McSweeney went on the warpath to take down Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin on Thursday night, and called for Durkin to step aside.
The Barrington Hills Republican seized on a story that revealed Durkin’s top paid campaign consultant was also getting paid on the side from a vendor that designs digital and mail campaign ads for House Republicans. McSweeney called the report “very disturbing.”
“The most disturbing part was the lack of disclosure,” McSweeney said about Durkin’s aide David Walsh receiving contract work with Majority Strategies. “I don’t know any part of the leadership team that knew about these payments. I think Jim Durkin should resign as a leader. He is a corrupt insider.”
McSweeney voted for Durkin to lead the House Republicans in January, and in every legislative leader election since 2014, “But I certainly would never vote for him again,” he said.
The revelation of the secret payments to Durkin’s right hand man did open some fresh wounds within party leadership after a bruising 2018 election cycle where House Republicans lost seven seats and Democrats regained a supermajority. Newly appointed leaders of the House Republican Organization now say they want to vet campaign vendors and consultants through a more transparent process to avoid any appearance of self-dealing or favoritism that they fear could cloud party judgment.
Walsh and the company’s top executive both claimed his work with Majority Strategies was unrelated to House Republican campaigns. The amount Walsh made on the contract remains unknown.
McSweeney’s previously private feud with Durkin escalated earlier this week when Durkin punished him for criticizing other House Republicans on social media.
After Representatives Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) and Tom Weber (R-Lake Villa) defeated a McSweeney measure to consolidate units of local government, McSweeney went to Facebook and paid to promote a post that said, “I’m a true independent conservative who is fighting the professional politicians of both parties.” The promoted post also linked to a news article that used an image of Reick and Weber. In another Facebook video, McSweeney said, “I am fighting the leaders of my own party who oppose consolidation.”
Durkin responded by stripping McSweeney of his state-paid communications staffer who helps House members send out press releases.
“This is an internal caucus matter,” Durkin said through a spokesperson. “I will continue to move the Republican party and House Republican caucus forward in Illinois, but will not tolerate public attacks on fellow members.”
Durkin’s move could be interpreted as one that sends a chilling message to other disgruntled members: speak out against Republicans and run the risk of losing access to government staff.
McSweeney brushed the punishment off as “no big deal,” but ripped into the Republican leader as a “fake Republican.”
“Here is a guy who is defending a racist in Steve Reick who I believe made racist comments. Here’s a guy who is involved in a corruption scandal and lack of disclosure, here’s a guy who lost seven seats,” he said. “It’s time for Durkin to resign. I think the time is now for a woman to lead the party.”
Reick previously apologized for remarks he made on the House floor during a debate about requiring more racial diversity on the boards of publicly traded companies.
“It was so offensive, both his comments and his fake apology,” McSweeney said.
McSweeney, who never attends the House Republican caucus meetings, tapped Reps. Tony McCombie, Avery Bourne, and Margo McDermed as his preferred candidates to lead the caucus, although none of them were willing to publicly join McSweeney and back his coup.
“The leader was nominated and I voted for him in November and support him,” McCombie said.
The Savanna Republican was recently named chair of the House Republican political organization and has a growing list of loyal allies within the party. She said she was unaware of the details behind Durkin’s move to punish McSweeney, but added, “Being a leader requires you to make tough decisions.”
“Jim Durkin is a great House Republican leader,” Bourne responded. “He is principled, consensus-driven, and has led our caucus well through difficult times. I support him as leader and am proud to serve on his leadership team.”
McDermed said she is “not hoping or planning to be leader.”
*This article was updated to include a response from Representative McDermed.