FOX 32/ BGA investigation finds problem with Brown re-election petitions

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News/ BGA) - Dorothy Brown is already at the center of a federal investigation for job selling in her office. And now, the embattled Cook County Circuit Court Clerk may have more trouble on her hands.

An investigation by FOX 32 News and the Better Government Association found numerous problems with the petitions Brown submitted to get on the ballot for re-election. The probe also found she relied on her county employees to do much of that political work.

Back in October, Brown told FOX 32s Dane Placko she would run for office, despite losing the support of the Cook County Democratic Party. The party unendorsed the three term Circuit Court Clerk after learning she's in the crosshairs of a federal corruption investigation.

"I deserve to be re-elected and we look forward to being re-elected. I have not done anything wrong," she said in an interview with FOX 32 News.

Either way, it's made her campaign a lot tougher, the BGA’s Andy Shaw says.

“She is obviously scrambling because she's lost the support of the party and no longer has the help of the organization doing this political work," Shaw said.

So where did Brown turn for political help?

Her employees.

FOX 32 News and the BGA examined more than 2,000 nominating petitions Brown submitted to get on the ballot last week and built a database that found nearly 100 people who gathered those signatures--her so-called "circulators" - share the same name as Circuit Court Clerk employees.

Eighteen of those employees, including chief of staff Wasiu Fashina, legal counsel Kelly Smeltzer, and chief human resources officer Robbin Perkins, make more than $100 thousand a year. Many others are rank and file union employees making far less money.

Using government employees under Brown's control to do political work is a potentially dangerous practice.

“Let’s hope they're not doing it on work hours, because that is potentially illegal. Let's hope they're not being forced to do that, because that's a shakedown of sort. And let's see if we can stop this practice altogether because it's just a bad mix,"  Shaw said.

In a statement, Brown's spokesperson Jalyne Strong, who also carried petitions, denies there was any pressure on employees:

FOX 32 News found other problems with Brown's petitions. Dane Placko went door to door throughout the city to try to verify some of the names, like Sheep Black who reportedly lives on west Peterson.

FOX 32 News: "Does a Sheep Black live here?"
Bartender Jeannie Gould: “No, the Black Sheep is the name of the organization."

That's right, it's the Black Sheep Bar and Grill - and no, businesses can't sign because they can't vote. Bartender Jeannie Gould says she never saw this sheet.

Also endorsing Brown's candidacy were "Rugs Cozy" - or Cozy Rugs on Clybourn, Cozy Cleaner on west Menomonee and Galleria Liquors.

A fine wine shop in OId Town’s owner calls it a shame.

“I don't know why people do that. That's not my handwriting," Galleria Liquors owner Benjamin Pourkhalili said.

FOX 32 and the BGA also found signatures at addresses that don't exist, like an empty lot on South King Drive. We also found pages and pages of signatures clearly in the same handwriting, and other pages that look like a Rorschach test.

We showed some of the petitions to Chicago election attorney Scott Erdman, who says it's against the law for circulators to knowingly hand in bad signatures - but it's rarely enforced.

“A candidate who knowingly submits bad signatures should take a little more time with their petitions and make sure that they're clean," Erdman said.

Brown needs a bit more than 5,000 legitimate signatures to get on the ballot. She submitted more than 40,000. Yet, there are reports her petitions may still be challenged by one of the other candidates in the race.


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