The Federal Election Commission has determined that U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's campaign did not violate election law when his then-girlfriend received more than $143,000 for campaign work not listed in financial disclosure forms.
Kirk's ex-wife, Kimberly Vertolli, filed a complaint with the commission in 2011 against the senator and others alleging they hid payments to Dodie McCracken and converted campaign funds for personal use.
Vertolli claimed that during the 2010 Senate race, the Kirk campaign committee improperly paid McCracken through a company working for the campaign. Since the money was not paid directly to McCracken, her name does not appear in Kirk's public reports outlining what he spent on the race.
In a letter to Vertolli on Tuesday, the election commission brushed aside each of her allegations against Kirk, his Senate campaign committee, McCracken and Robert Vail Jr., owner of a Wilmette-based advertising firm, The Patterson Group. Vail is a business associate and friend of McCracken's.
The commission agreed with Kirk's position that money paid to McCracken did not have to be disclosed because she was a subcontractor to The Patterson Group.
The commission said the Kirk campaign was required only to disclose money paid to primary contractors, such as The Patterson Group, and that it did so. Kirk's campaign paid The Patterson Group $1.85 million, which in turn paid McCracken more than $143,000 for work from August 2009 to August 2010, according to records.
The commission also said it found no evidence that campaign money went toward the personal use of McCracken, as Vertolli had alleged.
Vertolli called the Federal Election Commission's ruling "a farce" and said the agency needs to change its rules and require candidates to publicly disclose payments to subcontractors working on their campaigns.
"What's the point of disclosing anything if you can hide payments to your lover?" Vertolli said. "Why even have the FEC when it's so toothless?"
Vertolli said the FEC's investigation was shallow. She noted that the agency did not seek documentation relating to McCracken's campaign expenses or documentation relating to The Patterson Group's payments to McCracken's company, Van Ness Communications.
McCracken, a former Kirk congressional staffer, learned of the FEC ruling when contacted Wednesday by the Tribune. "That's good," she said, declining to further discuss the matter.
Kirk's staff did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Kirk, a North Shore Republican, served in the House from 2001 to 2010, when he won the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. He is not up for re-election until 2016.
The Tribune, which in May 2012 first disclosed the FEC complaint about payments to McCracken, also reported that Kirk helped McCracken in other ways. Kirk was a leading sponsor of congressional legislation that meant $5.3 million for two of McCracken's clients. Kirk supported bills that directed the Treasury Department to mint and sell collectible coins to nonprofit groups that had hired McCracken's public relations firm, Arcadian Partners.
Vertolli and Kirk had been married for nearly eight years before divorcing in 2009. Vertolli has blamed Kirk's relationship with McCracken for the breakup of their marriage. Kirk's campaign staff had maintained that Vertolli was an aggrieved ex-wife who made baseless accusations to the election commission.
The Tribune reported that Kirk also had placed Vertolli on his 2010 campaign staff and that she, too, was not identified by name as receiving money. Kirk's campaign paid $40,000 to a corporate entity Vertolli created, Athens & Sparta Counsel LLC.
Vertolli, a former lawyer for the CIA, had said she did legal work and other campaign duties, and said payments to her were proper.
Vertolli's FEC complaint did not mention the money paid to her, money she later came to believe was intended to quiet her about her misgivings regarding McCracken.