Insider Trading

Bill Conway

candidate for State’s Attorney

The candidate who claims he’s “getting politics out of the State’s Attorney’s Office” is apparently engaging in the all-too-familiar political games of the old guard of Chicago. Bob Fioretti unsuccessfully tried to get Kim Foxx kicked off the ballot. And all signs suggest Bill Conway put him up to it. The evidence suggests that Bill Conway’s campaign paid for the research used by Bob Fioretti, another candidate for Cook County State’s Attorney, to challenge the nominating petitions filed by incumbent Kim Foxx in her re-election bid. Yet, neither Conway nor Fioretti reported the expense as an in-kind campaign contribution; a practice that might be a violation of Illinois law. 

And this isn’t just your typical insider tactics: Conway’s engaging in the worst kind of racist politics. Ballot challenges hit immigrants, people of color, the poor, and the disabled hardest. It’s a transparent attempt to smear Foxx, a Black candidate with Black support, by disenfranchising her supporters.

Conway has emphasized transparency in the state’s attorney’s office as part of his four-part ethics plan. Despite public allegations, he has failed to answer glaring questions about his apparent involvement in the petition challenge and, if he was involved, why he has been unwilling to be associated with the effort.

Conway has failed to comment publicly about any role he may have played. But a review of campaign finance records, filings with the Cook County clerk’s office, candidate statements, and other materials all support the view that he likely played a central, but hidden, role in the legal challenge to Foxx’s petitions.

The Evidence

Conway bought petition software that creates challenges identical to the challenge against Foxx, software Fioretti never bought

Conway reported paying $4,000 to Petition Review LLC of Glenview, Illinois, for software on November 25, the same day he and Foxx filed their nominating petitions. Petition Review sells a proprietary, licensed program that can be used to create a dataset from the signatures on nominating petitions and to generate exhibits that can be used in an administrative or legal proceeding challenging such petitions.

  • Conway’s campaign never filed a challenge to any candidate’s petitions, but Nathaniel Holcomb, Fioretti’s campaign manager, filed a 1,269-page challenge to Foxx’s petitions on December 9. Fioretti did not report buying any software that could be used to examine nominating petitions.
  • The challenge filed on Fioretti’s behalf against Kim Foxx was identical to the language and formatting of petition challenges from candidates who bought Petition Review’s services. It contains more than 1,200 pages of exhibits with column headers for designating signatures that were challenged on the following grounds:
    • “Signer not registered at address shown”
    • “Signature not genuine signature of registered voter”
    • “Signer resides outside district”
    • “Signer’s address missing or incomplete”
    • “Signer signed petition more than once at Sheet/Line indicated”
  •  Identical language, as well as all other language and formatting on each page of Fioretti’s challenge, was used in petition challenges against opponents of at least five other Illinois candidates who bought Petition Review’s services, including software, in the last few months of 2019: Jacob Meister, Kerrie Maloney Laytin, Sheree Henry, John Garrido, and Cam Davis .

Conway propositioned Donna More to use their program to challenge Foxx

Donna More, a third candidate for State’s Attorney, said in a Facebook statement on January 23 that she received a call from Conway’s campaign to gauge her interest in using his research to challenge Foxx’s petitions.

“We promptly declined because the idea was unethical on its face,” More said. “I’d never go into court with someone else’s evidence claiming it was mine.” More also questioned why Conway didn’t have the courage to pursue the challenge himself.

Finally, More said she was concerned about the timing of Fioretti’s challenge announcement. “We thought it was more than coincidence.”

Donna More’s Facebook statement said that she was considering filing a complaint with the Cook County Electoral Board about reports that Conway had paid for the research used in Fioretti’s challenge, presumably a reference to Russ Stewart’s above-mentioned column. She has not announced doing so.

Fioretti admitted he had a “wealthy benefactor” who paid for the challenge

Fioretti has not said who paid for the research used in his challenge. But he told Politico’s Illinois Playbook on December 16 that he had “a wealthy benefactor helping pay for the attorneys and researchers needed to fuel his effort.”

Conway has neither confirmed nor denied helping Fioretti prepare the challenge. But campaign disclosures show Conway’s campaign was far more likely to have found the expense of a petition challenge affordable. Fioretti’s campaign spent $8,281 during the last half of 2019, while Conway’s spent more than $2.5 million. 

Conway’s campaign also spent about $89 on a flurry of Uber rides on December 3, the day Secler and Odelson requested additional copies of the petitions. In addition, his campaign paid $12,088 to Spiros Consulting LLC, a research firm, on December 5, and $322 to LexisNexis, an online service that can be used to track down names and addresses, on December 6.

The Timing Doesn’t Add Up

Conway’s campaign also had the time to examine Foxx’s petitions that Fioretti did not. Odelson & Sterk Ltd., a law firm employed by Conway’s campaign, got a copy of them by way of associate attorney Ross D. Secler the day after they were filed, according to records obtained from the Cook County clerk’s office. Both Secler and Burt Odelson, a name partner in the firm, requested two more copies on December 3. Laura Hughes, a Conway campaign staffer, got a copy of the petitions on November 26.

Holcomb, Fioretti’s campaign manager, didn’t get his copies of the petitions until December 4, five days before he filed his challenge on Fioretti’s behalf.

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