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Hultgren apologizes for 'human trafficking' mailer

Published: Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 4:53 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010 11:21 a.m. CDT

State Sen. Randy Hultgren has apologized to voters in the 14th Congressional District for a mailer that alleges the firm his Republican primary opponent works for lobbies for companies that have a history of human trafficking.

The mailer, which started appearing in mailboxes last week, said that Ethan Hastert is “employed by the same law firm that lobbies on behalf of foreign mining companies with deplorable human rights records and a history of human trafficking.”

Hastert works for the Chicago-based law firm Mayer Brown. Part of Mayer Brown’s practice sets up financing for mining interests around the world, including in countries the U.S. State Department has said have poor human rights records, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Hastert spokesman Andrew Nelms called the allegation “a vicious lie” and said Hastert does not condone human trafficking.

“Randy’s not running against Mayer Brown, he’s running against Ethan,” Nelms said. “It’s a personal attack against Ethan Hastert. He’s trying to attach Ethan Hastert to human trafficking.”

The winner of the Feb. 2 primary will face incumbent Congressman and Democrat Bill Foster and Green Party candidate Daniel Kairis in November’s general election.

Hultgren spokesman John Cooney said the campaign had no comment beyond a statement released Monday that reportedly was the text of an automated phone call sent Monday to area Republicans. Hultgren said in the message that in the mailer he discussed some “questionable clients” of Hastert’s law firm.

“I believe that this was a mistake as it has taken the campaign discourse away from the issues,” Hultgren said in the message. “Because I did this, I feel that I owe you an apology.”

Hultgren said he wished he could call voters individually but relied on a recording because of the early primary and the urgency of delivering the message.

“I apologize if this mailing came across as a political attack, as you deserve better discourse between those vying for your support to face Bill Foster in November,” Hultgren said. “Please understand, my passion to beat Foster motivated me to get into this race and that this will remain my focus over the next seven days of the campaign to earn your Republican endorsement.”

Hultgren’s call followed automated phone calls made Friday by Hastert’s wife, Heidi, who called the allegation a “ridiculous and untrue attack.” She went on to say she is disappointed that Hultgren would “exploit the suffering of children and women to further his political career,” and said her husband would “never be associated with that kind of evil.” She called on voters to reject the “awful, dishonest tactics on election day.”

The mailer also said Hastert failed to vote in the most recent Republican primary election. Hastert lived in Chicago at that time, and Chicago Board of Elections records indicate he voted in the February 2008 primary, as well as the general election that year. He moved to Kane County in late 2008 and registered to vote there Jan. 31, 2009, according to the Kane County Clerk’s Office.

Nelms said Hastert would continue to run a positive campaign.

“The voters made it very clear, and Ethan made a promise nine months ago, that this was going to be a clean campaign based on the issues,” Helms said. “Ethan is going to stick to that promise. It’s sad that Randy broke this promise.”

• Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory contributed to this report.

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