Businessman Chris Kennedy became the first big name Democrat to announce his candidacy for governor in February — but he has yet to report some traditional campaign expenditures, including payments for well-known consultants, rented office space, campaign T-shirts and stickers and travel expenses.
Kennedy, the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, announced his candidacy via a video sent to supporters and he reiterated in an email this week that he’s running his campaign for voters, not for “political insiders.” That was in response to reports that the Democratic establishment is instead rounding up early support for J.B. Pritzker instead.
But while Kennedy announced his run on Feb. 8, he didn’t make expenditure until March 28 — nearly seven weeks later, according to his quarterly report filed with the state Board of Elections on April 17. The filing reports expenditures, contributions and debts and obligations through March 31.
Political insiders have criticized Kennedy for his long history of flirting with running for various offices without ever actually taking the plunge. But his campaign staff dismissed any speculation that his light spending reports signal a lack of commitment to the campaign, insisting, “Chris is in this race to stay.”
Kennedy campaign officials say a complete list of expenditures will be detailed on the next quarterly report, which isn’t due until July 15.
“The campaign paid the bills when they were due and any further questions you have will be answered on the next quarterly report,” Kennedy spokesman Mark Bergman said.
Absent from the filing on record are any payments to Bergman, political ad man and strategist Eric Adelstein, campaign manager Brendan O’Sullivan, finance team leader Emma Pieper and campaign adviser Hanah Jubeh. There’s also no payment for the office space the campaign is renting in the Merchandise Mart — the building Kennedy once managed.
Additionally, Kennedy spent some of February traveling to campaign stops in Springfield, Rockford and Moline with no transportation expenses included in the filing. And stickers, banners and T-shirts that were evident in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade Kennedy attended in March are not listed, either.
In contrast, gubernatorial candidate Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who announced his run in January, listed expenditures for salaries for two consultants. State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, also reported an expenditure for consulting services and office rent. He announced his run on March 20.
Billionaire venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, too, listed a variety of expenditures, including consulting services in such areas as political outreach, field, operations and administration, policy, and compliance and accounting. He also listed rent costs.
Pritzker announced his run on April 6 but established an exploratory committee in March.
Tom Newman, director of the state Board of Election’s Division of Campaign Disclosure, said later invoices could explain some of the absent Kennedy expenditures — especially when they’re made closer to the end of the reporting period.
“You can get a variety of ways things are reported. Some committees will report the expenditure essentially the day they place the order,” Newman said. “Others will wait until the invoice comes in. There’s those factors.”
But he noted it’s unusual to not have payments listed for campaign merchandise.
“Something like that. Here again you have a possibility that you know maybe they didn’t get the bill or the invoice yet. It would be more of a concern, considering the situation where they’ve got the merchandise obviously. Unless they’ve got a very trusting vendor, usually they want to get the money first before they get the merchandise,” Newman said. “So that could be something. Again I don’t know if they’ve done anything wrong or not, but it’s an area that could cause some questions.”
Sarah Brune, executive director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said consultants are allowed to volunteer for campaigns, but hours should be reported as soon as they become paid staff. She also noted that campaigns can use personal cars for travel expenses. Candidates can choose whether or not to report mileage for reimbursement.
“The thing is it’s all going to be reported, so there’s no reason to delay this. Case by case, it’s difficult, but in all, they should be right on top of this,” Brune said. “There’s no reason why not to report it. We have many months to go. Stretching it out does no good, and it’s important information. It’s public information so they should be prompt. … As a package, they just need to make sure that they’re documenting their expenditures promptly, accurately.”
While some are questioning whether Kennedy will truly stay in the race and if he’s putting enough resources into the early stages of the campaign, his campaign is flatly rejecting the naysayers.
“Chris is in this race to stay so he can bring revolutionary change to Illinois government. If party insiders feel that their best strategy is to select a nominee before voters have their say, then they clearly learned nothing from the 2016 primary elections,” Bergman said. “Chris is going to take his message directly to the voters, regardless of what pressure insiders try to apply.”
Democratic consultants too point to a March poll of 500 likely Democratic primary voters, conducted by Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers, which showed Kennedy in the lead among Pritzker, Kennedy and Summers. Summers ultimately opted not to run and endorsed Pritzker.
While this is Kennedy’s first campaign, he has been touted as a candidate for Congress, U.S. Senate and governor since the turn of the 21st century.
“People have been wanting him to run for a long time and it hasn’t been the right time for him, so you get tarred with that sort of ‘will he, won’t he,’” said Jason McGrath, a political consultant who has worked closely with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, Rep. Robin Kelly and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “But he seems to be in it and I don’t see that changing, at least not based on some people’s hopes.”