GOP candidate alleges ‘pay-to-play’ in surveyor’s office
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent July 23, 2012 1:03PM
Updated: August 25, 2012 6:10AM
CROWN POINT – The Republican nominee in the race for Lake County surveyor is calling for an end what he calls the “pay-to-play” politics of campaign donations from contractors and county employees.
Eric Krieg, of Munster, who is challenging Surveyor George Van Til’s bid for a sixth term, has released an analysis of donations received by Van Til’s campaign committee “Volunteers for Van Til.” In it, Krieg lists nearly $25,000 in donations made since 2005, which came from Van Til’s direct reports and companies that have received contracts for county work.
“The bottom line is that pay-to-play has to stop,” Krieg said. “We have to get to the point where politicians are not fundraising from the people that benefit from Lake County contracts.”
Van Til contends the charge has no merit. “It’s really a red herring, especially because of the fact that I don’t award contracts,” Van Til said Monday. “So everything he’s saying makes no sense. I don’t pick the people who work with us. The commissioners do. The Drainage Board does. I don’t award contracts. I don’t give out work.”
Krieg contends that Van Til often brings projects to those boards, and often with only one bidder.
Krieg’s analysis shows that Van Til gathered $6,160 from his employees, $17,270 from businesses that do work with the surveyor’s office and $1,400 from now-retired Bank Calumet executive Cal Bellamy.
Krieg included Bellamy after tracking a $50,000 investment that Van Til’s campaign committee made with Bank Calumet between 2005 and 2007, before Bellamy left.
Bellamy said any link between Bank Calumet and pay-to-play analysis “seems like a reach.”
“I contribute to many campaigns and many candidates, including George, whom I’ve know for many decades,” Bellamy said. “Not to be too flip, but Bank Calumet was a billion (dollar) institution. While all deposits are important, $50,000 would not rise to the level of notice to me as CEO.
“We’re just a custodian for that. It’s not $50,000 in profit or $50,000 in my pocket … it’s inconsequential as far as dollars to the bank are concerned.”
Bellamy said he couldn’t comment on contributions made by others, and was “perplexed” at being singled out by Krieg.
“I do know that Mr. Krieg sent me some complementary tickets to his recent event, which I didn’t attend. I don’t know where he’s coming from. I can tell you I was recently bawled out by George because I contributed to his opponent in the primary.
“I have found (George Van Til) to be a man of ideas, and when you have somebody in local government with ideas, even if he’s a little divisive, I think that’s worth something to our area. I don’t feel it necessary to justify my contributions to Mr. Krieg.”
Van Til took exception to the insinuation that Bellamy made contributions to his campaign in exchange for doing business with his bank.
“Let me just say this: That is 100 percent totally and unequivocally absurd. Absurd,” Van Til said. “My campaign funds, whatever I’ve had in campaign funds, is still in that bank long after (Bellamy) left, and I don’t even know who runs it now.
“Cal Bellamy is a personal friend and is one of the most well-known and highly respected stalwarts of ethics in Lake County. To insinuate that he’s motivated by something like that is patently ridiculous and uninformed. If (Krieg) had been around for a while, he’d never say a thing about Cal Bellamy. … Ninety-nine percent of Republicans wouldn’t say anything like that either.”
Krieg said he believes the contributions are worth noting.
“It is what it is, and I don’t think that people know about it,” Krieg said Monday by phone. “I wasn’t surprised that Bellamy gave donations before 2008 when the revelations of gas-stealing came out. Krieg was referring to a county surveillance tape that showed Van Til filling his private vehicle from a county fuel pump without permission.
“(Cal Bellamy) is supposed to be the ethics guru,” Krieg said. “What are you giving money to a man like Van Til for after that? It just doesn’t look right.”
In his release, Krieg said all Republican candidates for Lake County office are pledging to end the practice of pay-to- play. However, Van Til pointed the finger back to state-level decision makers in Krieg’s own party for failing to reform the campaign contribution process.
“It’s been a choice by the Republican Legislature and the governor to do (contributions) the way they are now,” Van Til said. “Of course, I comply with those laws. There has been discussion from time to time, but they have not made any substantive changes.
“On all instances, this is just wrong. (Krieg) can look to his own governor in his own party to see what their policy is. If he’s criticizing me, he’s criticizing everybody in the party.”
The surveyor also noted that he has voluntarily declined large donations.
“I personally have always limited the amount of money I have received from anyone, and turned back large contributions that are in excess of $1,000, for the most part,” he said. “But it’s something that bears looking at.
“I do think it has some issues of rights, constitutionality and things of that nature. For instance, some of my employees over the years have donated, and the record shows that some don’t. I’m not sure who does or doesn’t.”
Krieg said his campaign is “largely self-funded,” and has raised small amounts of money from “normal” citizens who have no financial stake in county business.
“This is really the only ethical way to run for office, and is in sharp contrast to Mr. Van Til, whose history of unethical behavior started long before his office was raided by the FBI,” Krieg said in the statement.
Krieg was referring to the June 5 raid, during which state and federal investigators seized computers and documents from Van Til’s offices at the Lake County Government Center. Federal authorities have declined to comment on the substance of the investigation.
“Van Til will say there is no connection (between contributions and contracts) and that’s fine,” Krieg said. “There is no proof, but it just doesn’t look good, and it’s not ethical.”