Derrick Smith, 10th District Illinois State Rep, paid for legal expenses with campaign funds

Date: 
02/02/2013
DerrickSmith

Derrick Smith

With his bribery trial set to begin Oct. 21, the Jan. 9 re-seated 10th District Illinois State Rep, Derrick Smith submitted a flurry of 13 amendments to reports originally submitted last year. They include disclosures of at least $37,000 in campaign funds being spent for criminal defense lawyers.

In a Sun-Times Media Wire story, an interview with Smith's current lawyer Victor Henderson, has Henderson saying, "Rep. Smith has complied with both the letter and spirit of the law as it relates to the use of his campaign fund. I think any time someone self-reports an amendment, those are people to me who are making sure their house is in order, which is what you want."

Smith, as he was running to be on the primary ballot for the 10th District seat to which he was appointed, was arrested and then indicted on bribery charges. They alleged that Smith accepted a $7,000 bribe from an undercover officer in exchange for writing a letter of support for a day care owner requesting a state grant. 

He was ousted from his seat and Eddie Winters was appointed to fulfill his term. Smith, however, won the primary. He would not step down so he appeared on the November 2012 ballot and was elected to the 10th District seat.  

The Illinois Constitution bars the House or Senate from expelling a member more than once for the same offense. It appears that legislators are testing the waters to see if they can find another issue on which to oust him from his seat again.

While state election laws clearly state that campaign funds may not be used for acquiring homes, cars, clothing or college tuition, to name a few, but they do not include campaign funds paying for criminal defense lawyers. 

Rupert Borgsmiller, Executive Director of the State Board of Elections said to the Sun-Times that the use of campaign funds for a legal defense has never been challenged in a complaint before the state election board.

The language in the laws does say that campaign funds can be used to "defray the customary and reasonable expenses of an officeholder in connection with the performance of governmental and public service functions."

One lawmaker who helped lead the ouster of Smith last August said his use of campaign money for his bribery defense represents anything but a "reasonable and customary" expense tied to being a legislator, reported the Sun-Times.

The lack of specificity about the use of campaign funds for legal defense also allowed both former governors  George Ryan and  Rod Blagojevich to shore up their legal defense funds with campaign funds.

While Smith's campaign coffers are depleted, less than $300 was report at the end of 2012, state legislators seem to be aware that Illinois laws governing campaign funds may need some revising. It seems likely that no such change can occur before Smith's trial. If found guilty, the legislator would have another legitimate reason to remove him from office.

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