The ex-wife of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that Kirk may have improperly hidden campaign payments to an ex-girlfriend by paying her through a company doing campaign work, The Chicago Tribune reports.
“Mr. Kirk seems to have believed Ms. McCracken provided him with something valuable enough, that he acceded to, directed, or tacitly endorsed … campaign donations being surreptitiously transferred to his girlfriend,” Kimberly Vertolli, the ex-wife, wrote in her complaint, filed in November 2011.
Vertolli, who has been a Navy lieutenant and intelligence officer and a lawyer for the CIA,, herself received $40,000 from the campaign, also through a company, though the Tribune reports that “she said there was nothing improper about that.”
Kirk’s campaign, meanwhile, has called Vertolli’s accusations “groundless.”
Vertolli, 39, and Kirk, 52, divorced in 2009 after nearly eight years of marriage. Eric Elk, Kirk’s campaign manager, told the Tribune that the couple split amicably, but Vertolli now blames Kirk’s relationship with Dodie McCracken, 54, for the divorce. McCracken worked on Kirk’s first House race, and later served as a top aide in Washington. Elk confirmed to the Tribune that Kirk and McCracken “were involved” after the then-Congressman’s marital separation from Vertolli in 2008, and that Kirk and McCracken took a trip to London, Athens and the Greek island Santorini in November of that year. The couple lived together in Illinois and Washington, D.C., from June 2011 until January, and Elk says they remain friends.
McCracken has acknowledged receiving more than $143,000 in fees and expenses for her campaign work. Kirk’s campaign provided the Tribune with a copy of its written response to the FEC. From the Tribune:
The lawyers said the campaign was required only to disclose money paid to primary contractors, such as The Patterson Group, and that it did so. McCracken’s more than $143,000 came out of $1.85 million paid to The Patterson Group, which is owned by Robert E. Vail Jr., a business associate and friend of McCracken’s.
McCracken’s own response to the FEC lamented that complaints are filed to the agency to “grab a quick headline to exact revenge or advance a personal or political agenda.” She said she worked 40 or more hour weeks for the campaign, and participated in “nearly all key team meetings.
The payments to Vertolli are their own story. Vertolli originally made public statements supporting Kirk’s Senate run. But in the summer of 2010, she gave an interview in which she criticized McCracken, calling her a, among other things, “Svengali figure in [Kirk’s] life.” Shortly after the interview was published, Vertolli says, Kirk asked her to join his campaign. She then stopped speaking out. Kirk’s campaign eventually paid her a $15,000 retainer fee and $25,000 for 83 hours of legal research, but not directly. The payments were made in January 2011 — two months after the election — to Athens & Sparta Counsel LLC, a firm Vertolli formed in September 2010.
“I was doing real work,” Vertolli told the Tribune. “But I do think the motivation in actually putting me on contract was to try to, was to get me to be quiet about my misgivings about McCracken and get my energy focused on helping Mark win.”
Kirk suffered a stroke in January. Earlier this month, he released a video showing his rehabilitation work, and discussing his hope to one day “climb the 45 steps that my staff counted, from the parking lot to the Senate front door, to fight for the people of Illinois.”
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com