One of the first congressional candidates to be recruited by Brand New Congress, a progressive organization founded by former Bernie Sanders staffers to help grassroots candidates run for Congress, was Anthony Clark, a Chicago Teacher and founder of the non-profit Suburban Unity Alliance. Clark is running as a Democrat in Illinois’s 7th Congressional District, a Democratic stronghold that has been represented by Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) since 1997. Davis regularly coasts through re-election, with Republicans rarely breaking 15 percent of the vote.
In response to a possible formidable Democratic Primary challenger, staffers of Davis’s Campaign filed several objections against Clark’s Campaign in an effort to remove him from the ballot.
Cherita Logan, the District Director for Congressman Davis, and Ricky Hendon, a former State Senator and longtime friend of Davis, filed the objections. Logan did not respond to requests for comment. Davis’s Campaign paid $5500 to Hendon for the ballot challenges and an additional $2500 for political consulting, according to the latest FEC filings. Davis’s Campaign paid Attorney Andy Flinkl $2500 in December 2017 for “petition challenges.”
The first objection was filed to contest Clark’s petition signatures to make the ballot, in which each signature was scrutinized for authenticity. A court hearing found Clark was officially 485 signatures above the required threshold of 1,356 to make the ballot, though Clark claims he would have been even more had he spent the time and legal resources to fight over several hundred more signatures that were contestable. According to Clark, he spent $12,000 in legal fees fighting the objections filed by Davis’s Campaign. A third primary challenger, Ahmed Salim, was removed from the ballot due to a similar objection filed against his campaign by the same officials from Davis’s Campaign.
The second objection filed against Clark’s Campaign included fraud claims that he did not personally obtain the signatures to make the ballot. “Objectors have alleged a pattern of fraud against Candidate, Clark, including but not limited to the Candidate’s fraud in circulating his petitions, which included signing as a circulator for sheets that the Candidate did not circulate, including but not limited [to] signing for sheets that were circulated by high school students that were not 18 years of age, and his mother.”
Many of the allegations were hearsay, with different people signing affidavits stating they claimed to speak with someone who signed the petition. Clayton Boyd, a part-time staffer of Davis, signed many of the affidavits for these allegations. The court dismissed those affidavits as a result. “It is the opinion of this hearing officer that the candidate testified credibly and forthrightly, particularly as to his methods of circulation and his ability to observe other petition sheet presenters in his campaign as they tendered the sheets to the voters,” the judge ruled. Boyd did not respond to a request for comment.
Clark’s Campaign responded to the allegations by producing several witnesses and affidavits contradicting the claims of fraud. The judge ruled in favor of Clark’s Campaign and recommended that Clark appear on the ballot, a recommendation that was ultimately accepted by the Illinois Board of Elections on January 30, 2018, less than two months before the primary on March 20.
“There was nothing that indicated I committed to fraud or was acting in bad faith,” Clark said in an interview with me. “It was a strategy to keep us off the campaign trail and force our campaign to spend a lot of money.”
This isn’t the first time Davis’s Campaign has used these tactics against primary challengers. In 2014, the Chicago Magazine reported primary challenger Dan Roche dropped out of the race due to the exorbitant legal fees and efforts required to fight objections filed against him. Those challenges were initiated by Davis’s Staffer, Clayton Boyd.
Since the objections, Clark reported that nearly 100 of his campaign signs have been stolen from public and private property throughout the district.
“So many of these incumbents are banking on the fact of their name recognition,” Clark added. “They are relying on my campaign not having enough time or enough money to truly reach everyone, because most of the time we do sit down with people, they’re excited they have a viable option.” Rep. Davis’s office officially declined to comment for this story, stating they consider the matter closed.
The tactic of filing objections or lawsuits against primary challengers to remove them from the ballot has often been used by establishment Democrats with significantly more funding and resources than their opponents.
In the 2016 election cycle, Congressional Candidate Lindy Li dropped out of the race after her primary opponent, Mike Parrish, a former Republican recruited by the DCCC, filed an objection challenging Li’s signatures to make the ballot.
Earlier this year, Brianna Westbrook faced an objection from a supporter of her primary opponent, Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, who is an attorney, to have her removed from the ballot. Westbrook managed to defeat the objection with just four signatures above the required threshold of 665. In the special election race, Westbrook received just over 40 percent of the vote in the face of being significantly outspent by her opponent.