BREAKING NEWS - Lyons' office looking into LaHood political photo

DeWayne Bartels
Will this photo being used in the campaign of Darin LaHood, Republican candidate for Peoria county state's Attorney, get three Peoria Heights Police officers in trouble with the law?

The use of a photograph in political ads for Darin LaHood, the Republican candidate for Peoria County State’s Attorney, has promoted an inquiry by the office of the Peoria County State's Attorney's office at the request of Peoria Heights Police chief Dustin Sutton.

Sutton requested the state's attorney's office look into the matter after the Peoria Times-Observer brought elections ethics law to Sutton's attention.

State election ethics law may have been violated by using a photograph taken with Peoria Heights police officers in front of a Peoria Heights squad car, now prominently displayed in LaHood’s ads.

The key word here is “may” because no one contacted at the state level who oversees elections or ethics would say one way or the other.

Three state employees said that call has to come from Peoria County State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons. 

The photograph has been used extensively in LaHood’s campaign literature promoting the fact that LaHood has been endorsed by the union of every law enforcement agen

The use of the photograph may have violated Illinois Public Act 095-0880 which includes the following wording:

*  “Governmental entity” means a unit of local government (including a community college district) or a school district but not a state agency.

*  “Prohibited political activity” means:

(1) Preparing for, organizing, or participating in any political meeting, political rally, political demonstration, or other political event.

* State employees shall not intentionally misappropriate any State property or resources by engaging in any prohibited political activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office or any political organization.

* (a) A person is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if that person intentionally violates any provision of Section 5-15, 5-30, 5-40, or 5-45 or Article 15.

* (a) Within 6 months after the effective date of this Act, each governmental entity, other than a community college district, and each community college district within six months after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 95th General Assembly, shall adopt an ordinance or resolution that regulates, in a manner no less restrictive than Section 5-15 and Article 10 of this Act, (i) the political activities of officers and employees of the governmental entity.

This act went into effect in Illinois Nov. 19, 2003. Municipalities were required to adopt the law also within six months. Peoria Heights had the ordinance on the books on May 18, 2004, exactly one day before the deadline.

Steve Sterm, an attorney with the Illinois State Board of Elections, would not comment on whether any of the officers violated the law.

He said an opinion on that should come from the Peoria County State’s Attorney or someone with the state’s ethics commission.

Chad Fornoff, head of the state ethics commission, also declined to say whether the officers in the photo could potentially face any legal action.

“That’s a question for a jury to decide,” Fornoff said.

“Whatever we would say would not be binding. It would have to be addressed by the state’s attorney,” Fornoff said. 

Sutton said he wants this issue cleared up soon.

“I completely understand and agree with this law,” Sutton said. “This was a union issue.”

Horstmann said he would not be contacting Lyons to ask him to look into this situation.

Sutton, when asked if he was going to ignore the issue, said he would not.

He placed a call to Lyons office and said at 4:20 p.m. the state's attorney office was seeking more information from him.

Sutton said he does not believe there is a legal issue with his officers. He said the public act talks of “intentional” violation. Sutton said his officers could hardly have done something intentionally if they were not aware of the law. But, he conceded, ignorance of the law is not a justification. 

The  photograph, in question, was taken after the three officers were off-duty, according to Sutton.

Sutton said he does not know who took the photo or if the officers were even aware their photo had been taken and would be used for political purposes.

“I’m glad you brought this to my attention,” Sutton said. “My concern is with the law.”

Lyons had not yet returned phone calls seeking comment as of 4:20 p.m. A message was left with is office for his opinion on whether the officers have violated state election law, and, if so, whether he would seek to prosecute them if they have violated the law.

LaHood was also unavailable for comment.