By Thomas Vogel
The latest available campaign finance disclosures for a pair of political action committees backing competing slates in the upcoming April 4 Proviso District 209 school board election show a wide gap in funding and, for one slate, thousands of dollars from groups and individuals outside Proviso Township.
Proviso First for School Board 209 — which supports three incumbent candidates and a fourth newcomer — has $11,250 in funds. The other committee, Proviso Together — which supports four challengers, supported by Forest Park board members Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner — has reported just $2,000.
The total amount of funding for each committee is unclear. But Illinois State Board of Elections records do show a web of connections between the incumbent candidate slate (Proviso First) and outside groups active in previous elections, including committees tied to former District 209 board president Chris Welch, longtime Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico, and Cook County Board Commissioner and McCook Mayor Jeffrey Tobolski.
The Proviso Together and Proviso First slates were both created in January 2017. As a result, each committee does not have to file a quarterly disclosure report until April 1, just days before the election, according to Illinois State Board of Election rules. Contributions under $1,000 are listed on quarterly disclosure reports.
Connie Brown, a local Forest Park business owner and chairman of Proviso Together, said her committee has raised — through many small contributions — much more than the reports show.
All disclosures listed for both committees as of March 7 are Schedule A-1 contributions, meaning each donation is over $1,000 and must be reported within five business days. Schedule A-1 contributions given within 30 days before an election — any day after March 5 — must be reported within two business days.
"All of our money is raised through grass-roots support," Brown said on March 9. "All of our contributors either live in the district or have friends or relatives within the district."
She said Proviso Together has roughly 200 contributors, with the average gift between $50 or $100. Brown declined to give an exact total.
"We're raising enough to do exactly what we need to do," she added, mentioning printing costs for campaign fliers and signage. "It's not about how much money is raised; it's how the money is raised."
Proviso First, by contrast, has received four A-1 donations totaling $11,250. The committee was created on Jan. 19. Teresa McKelvy and Brian Cross, both sitting Proviso 209 Board of Education members up for re-election, are listed as president and treasurer, respectively. McKelvy is currently the school board president.
Brian Cross, Proviso First's treasurer and an incumbent school board candidate, did not return requests for comment.
Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski, created in June 2009 to support Jeffrey Tobolski in his bid for Cook County Board commissioner, gave $1,000 to Proviso First on Feb. 27. Tobolski is also the mayor of McCook. According to its most recent quarterly report, Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski has a $282,472.46 fund balance.
As Cook County commissioner, Tobolski's 16th District includes parts of several Proviso communities, including Bellwood, Westchester, Melrose Park and Maywood. Tobolski mentioned that he got a message from Proviso First on Facebook asking for a contribution and said he knows Cross.
"I've known him for a number of years," Tobolski said March 8. "We both went to St. Joe's High School in Westchester." He added that he tends to support incumbents.
"I didn't see anything that they were doing wrong," he said of the incumbents on the Proviso First slate. "The folks have a done a good job."
D209's 2016 four-year graduation rate was 73.5 percent, more than 10 percentage points below the state average, according to the Illinois Report Card, the state's official source. Other metrics, including the rate of graduating seniors enrolling in two- or four-year colleges, are also below state average.
Tobolski said the $1,000 is a one-time contribution and that he was not a "kingmaker."
Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski has been active in other elections, too. Since 2011, the group has given eight contributions totaling $2,700 to People for Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D209's former board president. Welch's tenure saw several controversies, including the possible use of taxpayer money to help pay Welch's legal fees in a defamation lawsuit. Welch was elected as an Illinois state representative for the 7th district in 2013.
Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski has also, since 2010, given seven separate donations totaling $5,750 to Citizens for Christopher Getty, a committee created to support Getty's village president campaign in Lyons. Getty was elected in 2009.
According to its latest quarterly report, Citizens for Christopher Getty has a fund balance of $99,055.47. Since 2010, Citizens for Getty has given Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski $2,400 in eight separate donations. The last, for $350, was in September 2016. Getty is also the chairman and treasurer of the United Citizens Party, a committee founded in 2004.
Since 2009, United Citizens Party, has given Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski nine separate contributions totaling $3,050. The most recent contribution, in March 2016, was for $1,000. According to its latest quarterly report, United Citizens Party has $101,554.56 as a fund balance.
Meanwhile, Citizens for Accountability, created in January 2015 and registered to a Michigan Avenue Loop address, gave $1,000 to Proviso First on Feb. 26. The committee's purpose is listed as "Advocacy efforts around issues that help the citizens of Illinois." Paul Rauner of St. Louis, Missouri is the committee's chairperson.
On March 8, Citizens for Accountability reported a $22,200 contribution from Azavar Audit Solutions, a Loop-based municipal auditor with clients across Chicagoland, including Westchester. Since 2015, Azavar and another company, called Azavar Technologies, have given Citizens for Accountability $53,800 in contributions. Since 2015, Azavar has also given People for Emanuel "Chris" Welch $3,500 and $500 to Citizens to Elect Ronald M. Serpico Sr. Inc. Serpico is the longtime mayor of Melrose Park.
Also on March 8, Citizens for Accountability reported a $1,000 contribution from Del Galdo Law Group LLC. In 2013, Del Galdo Law Group gave Your Choice for Proviso a $9,387.83 in-kind mailing contribution. Del Galdo was D209's counsel from 2007 to 2015. Your Choice For Proviso was created in March 2013 to support the candidacy of Teresa McKelvy in her 2013 D209 election campaign. Dan Adams, the D209 board's current vice president, chaired that committee.
In September 2016, Citizens for Accountability gave $500 to People for Emanuel "Chris" Welch. That same month, Citizens for Accountability gave Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski $1,000. A month earlier, they gave United Citizens Party $1,000. According to its latest quarterly report, Citizens for Accountability has a fund balance of $2,361.21.
CashAmerica, a Texas-based pawn shop chain, gave Citizens for Accountability $2,000 in October 2016. In the past, CashAmerica has also contributed to a committee backing Ronald Serpico Sr. CashAmerica gave Citizens to Elect Ronald M. Serpico Sr. Inc. $250 in 2013. In November 2016, Citizens to Elect Ronald M. Serpico gave People for Emanuel Chris Welch $2,500.
Tuwanna Stewart, a JP Morgan Chase loan officer with a Glendale Heights address, gave Proviso First $5,000 on Feb. 24. Stewart's donation is the only contribution given by her, according to Illinois State Board of Election records.
Wendy Smith, a Chicago resident and Chicago Police Department patrol officer, gave Proviso First $4,250 on Feb. 24. Smith's donation is the only contribution given by her, according to Illinois State Board of Election records. City of Chicago records list Smith's annual salary at $90,618.
Proviso Together, on the other hand, has received two A-1 donations totaling $2,000.
Linda Offenbecher of Westchester, an occupational therapist, gave $1,000 on Feb 13. David Grant of Kankakee gave $1,000 on Feb. 21.