The Village Manager Association received $12,500 from three donors to pay for a survey in January but did not report the sources of the funding until eight days after the state’s deadline, according to a disclosure filing today.
The tardiness of the filing will likely incur a $500 penalty assessed from the Illinois State Board of Elections, an official there said.
Paul Beckwith, owner of Sachem Co. in Downtown Oak Park and a member of the VMA board of directors, gave $5,000 on Jan. 10. Regency Development Group, owned by developer Alex Troyanovsky, gave $5,000 on Jan. 24. And Shaker Recruitment & Communications, 1100 Lake St., gave $2,500 on Jan. 25.
Troyanovsky said he was unaware of which candidates where running on which tickets. “I support everyone,” he said. “I’m totally politically neutral.”
He said he gives money to campaigns in every town he works in and doesn’t think contributions can buy favors with board members. “It doesn’t help,” he said, pointing to a vote against his project at Home Avenue and South Boulevard by Trustee Ray Johnson, who had supported other projects.
Johnson is running for re-election on the slate endorsed by the VMA. Troyanovsky has touted his practice of not asking for subsidies for his Oak Park projects.
Johnson and Troyanovsky scoffed at the suggestion that a developer making a large campaign donation could give the appearance of impropriety.
“I find the assertion offensive,” Johnson said. “I think our opponents are desperate, and they’re throwing whatever they can at us.”
Johnson draws a strong line between the VMA and the Citizens for Progressive Action, the slate formed by the VMA. He said he’s never served on the VMA board and has no control over how or from whom the VMA gathers donations.
“It has nothing to do with me,” he said. “It has nothing to do with our campaign.”
Johnson, too, used the Home Avenue/South Boulevard project as an example. Although some VMA stalwarts, such as VMA past-president Gene Armstrong, lobbied for the approval of Troyanovsky’s Home/South
project, Johnson and President David Pope voted against it.
“I didn’t feel it was the right project. That’s what it will always come down to,” Johnson said.
Pope endorsed the Citizens for Progressive Action slate in a letter to the editor last week. Pope was elected as a trustee in 2003 as a VMA-slated candidate but ran as an independent in 2005 for the presidency.
Asked last week who would be on the list of donors for the money that paid for the survey, VMA President Bob Kane said, “You’ll probably see 100 donors.” He said then, as he did Thursday, that he was not on the fundraising committee and is not familiar with every donation made.
Kane confirmed Thursday that the VMA secured large contributions by selling donors on the need for a survey, and that it was not a coincidence that $12,500 was raised the same month that a benchmark survey that cost $12,522.20 was conducted.
He said, though, that the VMA plans to continue to do a survey a year. “We want to make sure we’re not out of touch in any way, shape or form,” he said.
Beckwith said his company doesn’t make its money in Oak Park and that he gave because he believed in the VMA’s need for an objective survey.
“It was worth it to me to spend $5,000 to get a third party to gather data that was legitimate,” Beckwith said.
Sachem Co., which employs 23 people, finds manufacturers for products sold at ALDI stores, everything from fresh meat to garbage liners to cookies.
Beckwith said he could have given the money to Infant Welfare or to feed the homeless, “but I’m concerned about the future of Oak Park, that we just didn’t have the data to make good decisions.
A call to Shaker Recruitment was forwarded to the Shaker Family Foundation but was not returned Thursday. Anthony Shaker, of Shaker Property Management, said he was “unavailable for comment until after the election.”
Rupert Borgsmiller, the director of campaign disclosure for the state election board, said fines for reports filed less than 10 days after the deadline are limited to $500. Otherwise, fines are levied at $200 a day for first-time offenders. The filing deadline was April 2.
Kane said he did not expect the VMA would have to pay a fine. The VMA consulted an attorney, Margaret Kostopulos, who agreed that the filing was not improper, Kane said. The organization decided not to fight the state, he said, and filed its pre-election report on Thursday.
Borgsmiller said Thursday he had not calculated a fine for the VMA’s filing but confirmed it was eight days late. Once an assessment letter is sent, the VMA will have 30 days to appeal the fine.