SPRINGFIELD — State Sen. Kyle McCarter spent more than $33,000 on a campaign consultant in the four months before he announced his bid for Congress against Republican U.S. Rep. John Shimkus.
While that kind of spending isn't unusual in the lead-up to a run for political office, the Republican from Lebanon tapped his state campaign account for the consulting work — a move that experts say likely would be prohibited under federal campaign laws if the work went toward his race for Congress.
"It looks questionable," said retired University of Illinois-Springfield political scientist Kent Redfield. "I think it raises legitimate questions. It certainly looks like something that needs some airing."
McCarter said he's done nothing wrong.
"It's not related to Congress," McCarter said of the spending.
Under federal election law, expenditures of candidates for federal office must be made with funds that were raised under federal guidelines.
In Illinois, state-level candidates have fewer restrictions on how they raise money, meaning they cannot spend money out of their state accounts on a federal campaign.
"Money used to run a federal campaign has to be raised under the federal rules," Redfield said.
A review of records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections shows that between June 1 and Sept. 29, McCarter wrote three checks worth a total of $33,675 to Downers Grove-based Isaiah Consulting.
By contrast, McCarter previously used Isaiah for three campaign mailing jobs worth a total of $1,232.
The consulting company is operated by Elizabeth Van Holt, who has done work for a handful of other Republican lawmakers and political action committees. Since 2009, records show the company has pulled in a total of $140,000 for campaign work.
"She's been helping me with projects a long time," McCarter said.
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McCarter, however, is in the middle of a four-year term in the Senate. The only race he is involved in is his bid to unseat Shimkus in the expansive district that stretches from Ford County in the north to Metropolis in the south.
McCarter, a member of the Senate since 2009, denied he was trying to get a head start on his federal race by using his state campaign funds.
"It's related to my position within the state," he said of the spending on Isaiah.
Van Holt could not immediately be reached for comment.
McCarter has formed a federal fundraising committee, but no activity has been recorded through Nov. 2.
McCarter earlier said he is seeking to unseat the longest tenured Illinois Republican in Congress because Shimkus broke his pledge to serve 12 years in the nation's capital. Shimkus will have served 20 years when his current term ends in 2016.
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Shimkus campaign spokesman Steve Tomaszewski said candidates are responsible for complying with state and federal campaign finance laws.
"We've seen what happens when elected officials improperly document their campaign finances, so if there is an issue here, I hope our opponent would self report it and correct it," Tomaszewski said.