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Cunningham used county email address for campaign: ‘I was wrong’

Published: Monday, May 5, 2014 10:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 7:14 a.m. CDT

GENEVA  – While a deputy in Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham’s office was suspended for five days after using the county’s server to work on Cunningham’s re-election campaign, emails show Cunningham himself used the county server to do campaign work.

“I was wrong,” Cunningham said. “I screwed up. There is no excuse for it. I apologize for it. I don’t know what else I can say.”

The state’s campaign disclosure law states candidates and those working on their campaigns cannot use taxpayer resources for political purposes, said Tom Newman, deputy director of campaign disclosure for the Illinois State Board of Elections. 

The Kane County Ethics Ordinance also forbids the use of county equipment for campaign purposes, as well as doing political work during work time at the county.

Cunningham, who won the Republican nomination in the March 18 primary election to seek a fourth term as county clerk, said if the emails cost the county anything, he would pay for it. 

“I have no intention of resigning,” Cunningham said. “Nowhere in my literature do I say I’m perfect.”

Cunningham said the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office has created a new policy on emails so employees are not allowed to use the county’s computers or email for anything personal. 

“They set the policy for the office as clearly as I should have,” Cunningham said. “We’re going to have a random audit of emails every other month.”

Kane County Board member Mark Davoust, R-St. Charles, who lost to Cunningham in the GOP primary for county clerk, filed an ethics complaint, which is pending.

Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said his office does not comment on pending or possible investigations.

The Kane County Chronicle filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all emails between Cunningham and his former deputy clerk, Jeff Ward, from Jan. 1 to March 31. Ward also was a volunteer in Cunningham’s re-election campaign.

Ward was suspended for five days after he sent a campaign-related email to the Illinois State Board of Elections on March 12. 

Ward was no longer an employee in the clerk’s office as of April 1, Kane County human resources director Sheila McCraven said.

Emails obtained by the Chronicle show Ward and Cunningham routinely emailed campaign-related materials back and forth on the county’s server, as well as from the county server to Cunningham’s personal email. 

They include:

• An email from Cunningham to Ward, on his county email, CunninghamJohn@co.kane.il.us, that was sent at 10:39 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, which is a forwarded message from a newspaper about advertising at “special political rates … to help catapult you to the top of the polls.”

• An email from Cunningham to Ward on Friday, Jan. 17, at 5 p.m., to schedule an endorsement interview with a local newspaper.

• An email from Ward on his county email, WardJeff@co.kane.il.us, at 9:52 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21, to Cunningham with a re-election flier featuring a full color photo of Cunningham and proclaiming him as “The Right Choice” for Kane County clerk. 

• An email from Cunningham on his Kane County account to Ward at 6:33 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, regarding a forwarded message from a sign company about bus decals promoting Cunningham’s re-election.

• An email from Ward on his county account at 3:27 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, to Cunningham’s personal email regarding “Cunningham for County Clerk.”

The email was regarding a fine Cunningham owed to the state board for failing to file quarterly campaign contribution reports on time.

Davoust said last month that he has not heard from anyone investigating his ethics complaint.

“I’m all ears like the rest of us, wondering what’s going to become of this,” Davoust said.

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