Complaints against McDermott campaign dismissed
BY CARRIE NAPOLEON Post-Tribune corresondent December 14, 2013 1:54PM
Updated: December 15, 2013 7:12PM
CROWN POINT — Three complaints filed with the Lake County Election Board alleging campaign finance violations by the re-election campaign of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. have been dismissed.
The Board of Elections and Voters Registration Thursday dismissed the complaints filed Nov. 22 by Eric Krieg, a former Republican candidate for the surveyor’s office, after deciding the complaints did not meet the burden of substantial proof, said James Wieser, the Democratic election board attorney.
Wieser said officials were required to hold the hearing to consider the motion to dismiss filed by McDermott on Dec. 2 before addressing the complaints. Those complaints were based on an advisory opinion regarding campaign finance guidelines that never became part of the actual law.
In the first complaint, Krieg alleged McDermott used campaign funds for personal use when paying $334,000 over 10 years to Kelly Consulting, a firm owned by the mayor’s wife, Melissa McDermott, to compile the campaign’s annual finance reports.
In the opinion on which Krieg based his complaint, it is advised that candidates should have a written contract with any family member who works on their campaign. Wieser said the opinion was never codified and the current law does not require written contracts, and the board agreed unanimously.
Wieser said the statute is very clear. The board had to make a preliminary determination if there were substantial reason to believe a violation of election law has occurred. After almost a half hour of testimony, the board decided that burden had not been met.
“Does ‘substantial reason’ mean ‘probable cause’ or something greater? ... Most of the board all pretty much agreed if you read the entire statute it is clearly something more than ‘probable cause,’” he said.
The same held true for the other two complaints. One questioned the payment of $6,000 to a Democratic Party ally to drive McDermott to fundraising events. The last was over $1,000 in rent the campaign paid for space in a building owned by Pyramid Development.