Tom Kacich: Johnson to convert campaign fund

In his latest campaign spending report, retired U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson discloses spending $12,494 during the last quarter of 2012 — which took in the end of the campaign season — but little of it went to GOP candidates.

The Urbana Republican, who left last year after six terms in Congress, has $257,851 left in his campaign fund. Earlier he had said that he intended to spend some of it on candidates and causes he supported. But the only politically related contributions he made in the last quarter were $1,000 to the Vermilion County Republican Party and $250 to Scott Merano, a candidate for the Montgomery County Board.

Mark Shelden, Johnson's former chief of staff, said the congressman plans to convert the campaign fund to a leadership political action committee so that it can make donations to candidates and groups.

"We talked with the (Federal Election Commission) last year and that was their advice. I think it makes it easier to maintain it so that we can spend both for candidates and on behalf of candidates," Shelden said.

Johnson's largest expenditure in the last quarter was $757.02 for what was described on his FEC filing as "office supply" from Best Buy.

Shelden said the purchase was a laptop computer to replace two desktop computers donated to the Champaign County Republican Party.

"We bought a laptop for the campaign to hold our various supporter lists and voter files and things like that," he said. "Tim is still making phone calls for people, and he's going to be active on behalf of candidates. We've got his supporter lists and in March he'll be able to call people and get out the vote for people he cares about, not just people in Champaign County but in Monticello or other places too."

Shelden said he and Johnson are being careful with expenditures from the campaign fund. None, he said, would go to personal use, the type of spending that got former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson in hot water with federal investigators.

Barickman's gay-marriage vote. State Sen. Jason Barickman's vote last week to allow same-sex marriages in Illinois has infuriated some conservative groups, including Family PAC, a Chicago-based group that already is calling for his resignation.

In robocalls to constituents in Barickman's conservative district north of Champaign, the group urged voters to call Barickman's office to register their anger.

"Was Barickman representing you, or the Chicago homosexual community?" asked Sandy Rios of Family PAC in the automated call. "Call Barickman today and tell him you've cast your last vote for him, and ask him to resign."

Similarly, comments left on stories on the conservative Illinois Review website were decidedly critical of the freshmen senator who had been Champaign County Republican Party chairman two years ago but now lives in Bloomington.

"He should be voted out of office he has shown he is a RINO aka democrat," wrote one person.

"This turncoat must be voted out the next time he is up for election!!!" wrote another reader.

Barickman, though, got 4-2-4 terms in the drawing last year by the State Board of Elections, meaning that he isn't up for re-election until November 2016 (and again in 2018). That's a lot of time for Barickman to repair the perceived damage of the vote, and possibly for attitudes to shift on gay marriage, even in his conservative district. A recent poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute showed that 45 percent of those surveyed statewide support gay marriage, an increase from 34 percent in just three years. Twenty percent of voters statewide are opposed to same sex marriage.

Shimkus on hydraulic fracturing. U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he wants the state government to handle the regulation of hydraulic fracturing in Illinois.

At a recent hearing by his House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, Shimkus said that states often are in a better position to regulate their needs than a one-size-fits-all approach from Washington.

"State regulators have every bit the same educational background, expertise, desire to protect the environment, and sense of professionalism as any employee at EPA, with the added bonus of actually living in the communities they are trying to make safe. They intimately know the terrain being regulated."

Shimkus cited Maryland and other states as having implemented rules and regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that are working.

"I want to encourage the General Assembly to pass common-sense legislation that will allow for the development of new natural gas production in our state," Shimkus added. "The Senate reached a unanimous agreement last year, and I hope they take this issue up again."

The Illinois Chamber Foundation's study found that over 40,000 jobs and $9 billion in economic activity could be generated if natural gas development moved forward.

"The missing piece is state guidelines," Shimkus noted.

So far this session there are five fracking-related bills in the Legislature, three sponsored by Republicans and two by Democrats. The bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, may have the best chance of passage since Democrats have a 40-19 advantage in the Senate and Frerichs sponsored the fracking bill in the Senate last year.

Frerichs' bill, as introduced, is a shell that actually contains no legislative language. But it is being negotiated in private sessions involving environmental groups, gas and oil producers and representatives of Attorney General Lisa Madigan's staff.

Brown coffee. State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, will host a coffee in Sidell next Monday morning.

The event will be at 8 a.m. at the Brick Street Cafe, 302 N. Gray St., Sidell, southwest of Danville, in Vermilion County.

Brown, whose old legislative district was centered in Macon County, has a new district that extends to the Indiana border and includes all or parts of Champaign, Douglas, Edgar, Macon, Moultrie, Shelby and Vermilion counties.

Shimkus in Vermilion County. Shimkus has opened his new 15th Congressional District office in the federal building and courthouse in Danville, the largest city in his sprawling, 33-county district.

The office is at 201 N. Vermilion St., Suite 218, Danville, IL 61832. Its phone number is 446-0664

Shimkus also has district offices in Effingham, Harrisburg and Maryville.

Davis opens Decatur office. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, has opened his second district office, this one in Decatur.

Davis opened his first district office in Champaign on the day he was inaugurated into Congress.

The Decatur office is at 243 Water St., Suite No. 100, Decatur, IL 62523 and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at tkacich@news-gazette.com.

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