WASHINGTON – The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) wants District 12 congressional candidate C.J. Baricevic to give back more than $37,000 in campaign contributions that were allegedly made as part of an illegal “straw man” scheme.
A complaint was filed in June with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by campaign watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, alleging that employees from the Belleville law office of Tom Keefe Jr., including several employees from the clerical staff at the firm, made $37,600 in contributions to Baricevic’s campaign in one day.
“When clerical staff from the same law firm are giving thousands of dollars on the same day, voters are right to wonder exactly what is going on,” NRCC spokesman Zach Hunter told the Record.
The complaint said the firm’s partners allegedly reimbursed six of the employees for their contributions.
Previous reports also alleged that Baricevic’s campaign received significant donations from lawyers who practice in the jurisdiction of St. Clair County Circuit Judge John Baricevic, who is C.J. Baricevic’s father.
“The facts as we know them raise significant questions about the legality of many donations to Baricevic’s campaign,” Hunter said.
In perhaps the most famous such scheme uncovered in recent years, political figure D’nesh D’souza was indicted and pleaded guilty in 2014 to making “straw man” donations. D'Souza was known for releasing a documentary entitled “2016: Obama’s America,” which was based on his 2010 book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”
In January 2014, D'souza was indicted on charges of making illegal political contributions to a 2012 Senate campaign, which is a felony. He pleaded guilty on May 20, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to using “straw donors” to make illegal political campaign donations. D’Souza was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house, five years' probation and a $30,000 fine.
“Baricevic needs to be transparent with voters about who is giving to his campaign and return the tens of thousands of dollars of questionable donations,” Hunter said.
As part of the complaint filed against Baricevic, foundation Executive Director Matthew Whitaker said contributions cannot be legally made in the name of someone who is not actually funding the contribution.
The foundation’s complaint asks the FEC to penalize Keefe, Thomas Keefe III and Samantha Unsell for their roles in the allegedly questionable contributions, and to penalize Baricevic and campaign treasurer Ann Barnum.
The Keefe employees that were reimbursed for their contributions were identified in the complaint as secretaries Debra Eastridge, Ashley Meuren and Madonna Schutzenhofer, legal assistants Jill Harres and Lisa Wierciak, and receptionist Jan Harding. Whitaker said similar administrative positions in Illinois pay an average of $31,000 per year. Each of the six employees allegedly contributed the maximum $2,700 allowable to Baricevic’s campaign.
In all, Whitaker said Baricevic’s congressional campaign has collected more than $246,000 in contributions from members of the legal community, most of which had cases heard by Judge Baricevic.
C.J. Baricevic, a Democrat from Belleville, is challenging freshman Republican Mike Bost of Carbondale in the November election.