Former Chicago Bear and current Romeoville mayoral candidate Steve "Mongo" McMichael has accused his political opponents of engaging in "political shenanigans" and trying to smear him by filing a complaint about his campaign committee with the state Board of Elections.
Romeoville Trustee Ken Griffin filed the complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections last month, alleging that McMichael's campaign committee hadn't properly disclosed who had paid for various materials promoting his campaign, including T-shirts, buttons and a direct-mail effort.
A closed hearing about the complaint was held Feb. 5, and an officer with the board issued a report Feb. 11 describing the allegations as "baseless," said Lisa Marie Raucci, a lawyer representing McMichael's campaign committee. Griffin withdrew his complaint after the officer's report was released, said his lawyer, John Fogarty.
McMichael, a defensive lineman with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears, addressed reporters outside Romeoville Village Hall Feb. 21, calling the accusations "frivolous charges" and "politics as usual."
He said Griffin — a supporter of John Noak, Romeoville's mayor and McMichael's opponent in the April 9 election — withdrew the complaint to avoid bad publicity.
"They knew that if the board of elections met, there was going to be a beatdown of epic proportions, and they might not get over that black eye," McMichael said.
In a Feb. 21 interview, Griffin said he filed the complaint because he believed McMichael's campaign wasn't properly documenting money and services provided by supporters.
"I began to see a real pattern emerging of him not following the rules," Griffin said. He said he filed the complaint "to take a shot across the bow. Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you don't have to follow the law like everybody else."
Griffin said some of the items that caught his attention were buttons promoting McMichael's campaign, a mailing that was sent to Romeoville residents and T-shirts supporting McMichael from the Chicago Slaughter, an indoor football team coached by McMichael.
But once the hearing officer for the board of elections found the allegations to be baseless, Griffin said he had no choice but to drop the complaint.
"I can't prove the financials," Griffin said. "If he says everything was donated, I'm not about to subpoena his in-laws and start asking them. The burden of proof is on me, and I don't have access to his financial records to prove it."
Griffin's lawyer said the complaint was not meant to be "vindictive."
"Our intent was only to make sure that he understood and his supporters understood that everything needs to be properly disclosed," Fogarty said. "I'm sure they'll disclose things in the future in such a way that there will be no question about who is paying for what."
However, comments Feb. 21 from both McMichael and Griffin highlighted the animosity coursing through the campaign. Griffin accused McMichael of trying to skirt election laws.
"He walks around with his Super Bowl rings and thinks that rules don't apply to him," Griffin said. "And I'm sorry — us poor little peons have to follow the rules, and so does he."
Earlier in the day, McMichael accused Griffin and Noak of engaging in dirty politics.
"That's the other side saying, 'I think you're more than me, and I can't beat you fair, so I've got to dirty you to get you out of the game to win,'" McMichael said. "Thank you for the compliment. You're telling everybody I'm a better man than you."
The campaign also flared up in late December, after Fogarty sent a letter to Chicago's ESPN radio affiliate stating that Noak was reserving the right to request equal airtime on the station if McMichael was allowed to continue in his longtime role as an analyst on the station's Bears pregame show. McMichael had formally entered the mayoral race a few days earlier.
The station, WMVP-AM 1000, decided not to allow McMichael to participate in the pre-game show for the season finale against the Detroit Lions.
McMichael said at the time that Fogarty's letter to the station was a sign that Noak considered him a viable candidate.