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Publicizing or politicking?

September 30, 2018

Political candidates like to get their names and faces before voters as much as possible before elections.

Sometimes, they can do that with tax dollars — legally.

A few days ago, County Clerk Dan Hendrickson, who faces Democrat Barbara Wells in the clerk’s race, sent out a glossy mailer to voters informing them when they can cast their ballots. It was mailed about six weeks before the Nov. 6 election. It included Hendrickson’s headshot and listed his name twice.

No state law bars Hendrickson, the county’s top election official, from sending out mailers paid for by tax dollars as long as it relates to his responsibilities.

However, state lawmakers are prohibited from using the state government printing office for about two months before general and primary elections. Similar restrictions are placed on federal lawmakers.

In an interview, Hendrickson, a Republican, said the County Clerk’s Office has been sending out pre-election mailers for years. But he acknowledged it was the first time that he knew of that the clerk’s photo was on the flyers.

Hendrickson said hardly anyone knows he is the county clerk, given that he was appointed last year when his predecessor, Bruce Clark, resigned after more than three decades in the position.

Neighboring Will County, he said, has long sent similar flyers to its residents.

His Democratic opponent, Wells, said the timing of the mailer “doesn’t look good.”

“He waited until it advantaged him to publish it,” she said.

She said it wasn’t necessary to include Hendrickson’s photo.

Alisa Kaplan, policy director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said Hendrickson was sending out legitimate government information.

But she said there are legitimate concerns when candidates in an election send out publicly funded materials including their names shortly before an election.

At the same time, Kaplan said, a photo could draw the attention of more residents to public information. And it could help people know who to hold accountable in case an election is mismanaged, she said.

“It’s a trade-off between giving the incumbent an advantage and letting the incumbent do his job,” Kaplan said.

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