Wong may have violated campaign laws, too

by Norm Winick

Knox County Clerk’s Marc Wong’s well-publicized legal troubles may not end with the theft and forgery charges that have already been filed. The Knox County Republican Central Committee is reported to be auditing their financial records to try and figure out why they are so broke they had to close their downtown Galesburg headquarters. Records filed with the State Board of Elections show that the normally-flush Knox County Republican party had a grand total of $1,156.32 available as of December 31, 2002. That’s barely enough to pay a few months rent.

The evidence that’s been made public so far and an examination of public records filed by Wong and State representative Don Moffitt indicate that a variety of election campaign finance laws may have been violated as well.

According to the charges already filed, over $14,000 was spent by Don Moffitt and itemized in his reports as going for his campaign expenses yet was diverted to Marc Wong’s campaign or personal accounts. Wong did not list any of those amounts as transfers in, in-kind contributions or expenses of his own campaign according to reports filed with the State Board of Elections. Wong only listed a total of $300 as transfers from Moffitt. The other $11,093.56 diverted from Moffitt’s campaign by allegedly altering checks is not documented – a clear violation of Illinois campaign finance laws punishable by civil penalties assessed by the State Board of Elections or a circuit court. As County Clerk, Wong is the party responsible for handling campaign finance statements from local candidates.

If he were to be found guilty of deliberately lying on his reports, it could be perjury, which is an even more serious violation. A perjurer is reportedly prohibited from holding an office of public trust for an additional five years.

An admission of guilt, whether through a plea agreement or a finding by a judge or jury, would immediately place Wong out of office. The Illinois Constitution states: "A person convicted of a felony, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime shall be ineligible to hold an office created by this Constitution. Eligibility may be restored as provided by law." There’s no question about that one.

Besides the monies Wong is already charged with stealing, another $19,979.95 in checks from Don Moffitt’s campaign went for expenses that Moffitt did not authorize. While Wong attributed his narrow victory in a newspaper ad to his door-to-door campaigning preceded by direct mail, Wong showed no expenses for postage on his disclosure statement. Moffitt’s campaign issued four checks totaling $7,243.13 to the Postal Service between September 2 and November 1, 2002 despite the fact that Moffitt had no massive direct mail campaign – nor did he need one.

All four of those checks appear to have had Moffitt’s name forged or applied by facsimile. A postal clerk in Galesburg says he remembers thinking it strange that Don Moffitt would be paying for Marc Wong’s campaign mailings – but that there’s nothing illegal or against regulations about it.

There is something illegal in forging a signature, stealing money and not reporting it as a campaign expense.

Don Moffitt needed no campaign advertising on cable TV but $1,989 was spent by his campaign with Insight Communications on October 21, 2002 – with a check allegedly containing a facsimile signature. Marc Wong did have cable TV ads.

Adding up the checks allegedly altered to go to "Citizens for Wong" instead of the original payees and payments made from Moffitt’s funds that most likely were for the benefit of Wong’s, there is a total $15,577.45 spent on Wong’s campaign not documented in his campaign disclosure – a major violation of campaign finance laws. He did list $14,455.48 in expenses in his report, making a total of at least $30,582.93 spent to achieve his 41-vote plurality.

Defeated County Clerk Steve Buck, who spent and reported $12,248.18, is outraged that the outcome of the election may have been determined by fraudulent means.

State law prescribes penalties for a variety of campaign finance law violations that stem from filing fraudulent reports. State’s Attorney Paul Mangieri will only acknowledge that he’s looking into that and other issues in the case.

In addition to the money spent for his campaign and not reported, $18,496.06 worth of checks from Moffitt’s campaign funds was made payable to Marc Wong between November 1, 2001 and November 20, 2002 – some or all with suspected forged or facsimile signatures. If any of these campaign funds were used personally by Wong, the IRS may be interested. Former Illinois Attorney General William Scott spent some time in the penitentiary for diverting campaign funds to personal use without telling the IRS.

Among the counts former Gov. George Ryan aide Scott Fawell was recently convicted of was performing campaign activity on state time. Marc Wong was a state employee at the time these alleged offenses were committed and his use of time is another area under investigation.

Marc Wong next appears in court April 22nd but his legal problems may just be beginning.