Last Monday, a group of Chicago reporters chased Illinois GOP Senate nominee Rep. Mark Kirk through a hotel kitchen. They never caught up with him after he left the stage at a public policy Senate forum sponsored by the Metropolitan Planning Council. He did not want to stop to take questions because most of them would probably have been about why he embellished his record as a Navy reserve officer.
The first of several stories about Kirk's exaggerations on his military and teaching careers broke May 29; Kirk made a few comments at a Memorial Day parade in Arlington Heights. He met on June 3 with the editorial boards of the Sun-Times and Tribune as his campaign was dealing with its first crisis, and that's been pretty much it. But the issue of Kirk avoiding the press goes deeper than the last few weeks.
Kirk has been ducking routine press coverage since he jumped into the Senate race. He refuses to release, when asked, his government or his political schedules. He also declines to volunteer where he is going to raise campaign cash and who hosts the events.
Kirk has the most stringent and stubborn non-disclosure policy when compared with the three other major Illinois statewide candidates. All can use improvement, especially in revealing in real time campaign fund-raising events. GOP governor nominee state Sen. Bill Brady is the best: He lists many of his fund-raisers on the state GOP website and a spokesman told me, when I brought up the matter, that they are mulling releasing a fuller schedule. During the primary, Alexi Giannoulias' campaign issued a schedule of his public events; in the general election contest, when I ask I often can -- not always -- get notice of what he is doing. Gov. Quinn gives out a bare-bones campaign schedule and nothing on fund-raisers.
I've hesitated to write this column for months, since I got some signals from the Kirk camp things may change. During the primary, Kirk did not want his little-known GOP rivals following him around. But the November race is big-time, and the battle for the seat once held by President Obama is one of the most watched in the nation.
Last January, when Kirk came to the Sun-Times editorial board looking for an endorsement, editorial page editor Tom McNamee, on my behalf, asked Kirk a series of questions about why he was so secretive.
Part of the reason? Keeping a competitive advantage. If he put out a schedule, Kirk said in January, "the only people that show up are DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] staffers and what you sometimes want to do is actually talk to people." But that's moot now. Both the DSCC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are sending "trackers" with video cameras to the enemy camp. During a recent Giannoulias fund-raiser in Washington, an NRSC tracker got in a scuffle when one of the hosts tried to kick him out of the Giannoulias event.
Told back in January there was hardly any routine coverage of what Kirk was doing in his campaign travels, Kirk said he disagreed and that his Google hits "would be pretty unbelievable." Unbelievably low, that is, when it came to routine stories.
Kirk did not seem to get the essential issue of transparency. He told the Sun-Times that federal fund-raising reports provide "ad nauseam detail." Those FEC reports don't reveal the names of hosts, members of finance committees and where an event took place.
On the matter of fund-raising transparency, I've been picking on everybody for years. In Chicago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a big-dollar fund-raiser Sunday at Gibsons Steak House for House Democrats that was never announced.
When I covered the 2004 Illinois Senate campaign of one Barack Obama, I had running battles with him and his staffers over Obama's travels and fund-raising transparency -- that ran up to and during his 2008 presidential campaign.
My threshold questions about elected officials' whereabouts can be easily answered: Put out at least a public government schedule and let people know where they are campaigning and fund-raising. We can argue over how much is enough--and a reporter and a candidate may never agree -- but Kirk's not even doing the minimum.