The mud has started to fly in the race for Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
Just hours after Democratic candidate David Hoffman challenged rivals Alexi Giannoulias and Cheryle Robinson Jackson to live up to the standards of transparency set by Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, the Giannoulias campaign is accusing Hoffman of doublespeak.
Giannoulias is calling on Hoffman to cancel a private fundraiser with federal prosecutors at the Berghoff Hotel and return any money he has accepted from current assistant U.S. Attorneys.
In an invitation sent out by the Hoffman campaign and obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Hoffman asks current assistant U.S. Attorneys for a suggested minimum donation of $150, an amount low enough that they would not have to disclose their name or employer under federal campaign contribution laws.
"The last thing the Illinois culture of corruption needs is political candidates soliciting the lead agency responsible for investigating corruption," Giannoulias campaign manager Tom Bowen said in a statement. "If we are going to be serious about reform, we have to act seriously. Hoffman should cancel the fundraiser, refuse money from current federal prosecutors and refuse to take contributions from employees of the U.S. Attorney's office."
The Hoffman camp immediately retaliated with its own statement accusing Giannoulias of being disingenuous. Hoffman's statement did not say whether the reception would be canceled.
"Alexi Giannoulias just retired the award for political hypocrisy," spokesman Thom Karmik said. "For months, he's been trumpeting the lie that he's emulating Barack Obama's ethical standards by not taking corporate PAC money. But Obama swore off all PAC money in his presidential campaign. By taking thousands of dollars in non-corporate PAC money, Alexi's failed to meet Obama's standard while trying to fool the voters.
"Among Alexi's latest PAC contributions is one from the Community Bankers Association. That association is leading the fight in Washington against President Obama's efforts to pass tougher financial regulations to protect consumers. Instead of throwing stones from his glass house, Alexi ought to return that contribution.
"And while he's at it, he can reveal for the first time how many millions of dollars in dividends he took out of his family bank while its loans were failing and the FDIC put it on its "watch list." Perhaps that's why he's refusing David's challenge to release his tax returns for the past five years - another standard Barack Obama set that Alexi's refused to honor."
Assistant U.S. Attorneys are allowed to donate money to political campaigns under the federal Hatch Act, but are prohibited from raising money on candidates' behalf, according to Randall Samborn, spokesman for the United States Attorney's office of the Northern District of Illinois.
The Hoffman invitation offers several other donation levels, ranging from $250 for a Friend, $500 for a Guest, $1,000 to Co-Host and $2,400 for Sponsor, the maximum donation allowed in federal primaries.
As state treasurer, Giannoulias signed an executive order that prohibited his state campaign fund from accepting contributions from Treasurer's office employees, and has vowed to uphold that pledge as a U.S. Senate candidate.
Hoffman entered the Senate race months after Giannoulias and trails the Democratic frontrunner in fundraising and name recognition. Hoffman has loaned $500,000 of his personal wealth to his campaign in hopes of catching up with Giannoulias.
Hoffman has highlighted his experience as a federal prosecutor to portray himself as a reform candidate, and the Giannaoulias campaign attack could be seen as an attempt to undercut Hoffman's message.
"Even the appearance of pay-to-play politics erodes public confidence, poisons the political climate and has no place in the U.S. Attorneys office," Bowen said. "Illinois voters deserve real reform, not reformers in words only."
Read the invitation: