CHICAGO (AP) — In a city where voter fraud is part of local lore, prosecutors are examining allegations by a Chicago alderman and others that campaign workers are paying people to vote for a Democrat involved in one of Illinois' most contentious legislative elections.
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, said Monday that the office's election unit is "looking into" a complaint against state Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago. The complaint was first lodged by Alderman Pat Dowell, a supporter of Dunkin's opponent in the Democratic primary who on Sunday released videos that she says were made by "volunteers" who entered a Dunkin campaign office to secretly record the payments.
A spokesman for Dunkin has called the accusations "baseless."
One video, reportedly made inside a Dunkin campaign office, shows workers apparently making payments with $50 bills. A second one, on the sidewalk outside a building sporting Dunkin campaign signs, records a conversation with a woman who appears to be giving directions to a man about how he can make money if he votes a certain way. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the authenticity of the videos.
Dunkin, who represents a predominantly Democratic district, has drawn criticism from fellow Democrats for supporting Republican legislation. He has been the spoiler for Democrats on several key votes affecting union allies, either by being absent or voting against party-led attempts to weaken Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's position in negotiations with the state workers' union.
His opponent in Illinois' March 15 primary, Juliana Stratton, received a rare endorsement Monday from President Barack Obama, who recorded radio and TV ads supporting her in the race.
Secretary of State Jesse White, another Democrat who supports Stratton, told the AP Monday after watching the videos that "it is clear that bribery was taking place."
"I'm disappointed in him (Dunkin)," said White, who was re-elected for his fifth term in 2014. "Shame on him."
In Illinois, vote buying is a Class 4 felony.
Dunkin did not immediately returned calls from the AP for comment. In a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday, a spokesman said the allegations were part of "desperate tactics" and "dirty tricks" by Stratton's supporters.
The allegations mark the latest chapter in a race that is seen as an extension of a prolonged state budget battle between Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature, including powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan. Rauner is backing Dunkin, while Madigan's labor union allies support Stratton.
The race is poised to become one of the most expensive Illinois legislative primaries in history, with more than $2 million in contributions, according to figures compiled by Aldertrack.com.
In one video that Dowell released, a man wearing an orange Dunkin hat can be seen handing out cash to people signing papers, while asking at one point if a man had voted. In the other video, a woman outside Dunkin's office on the city's South Side tells a person wearing a camera that people at a local library will be paid if they "punch 121."
Sample ballots for Dunkin's district show he is listed under 121 in the March 15 primary.
A man can be heard asking, "How much money?" The woman responds, "$50 apiece."
Associated Press reporter Sara Burnett contributed to this report.