Zinke email potential violation of campaign law

CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke could have violated state election laws with a letter he sent from a county email address defending himself against political opponents.

Zinke, a candidate for McHenry County sheriff in 2014, sent an email to current and former McHenry County Board members to address a picture posted by a local blogger who said Zinke flipped the middle finger toward him and others in the crowd at the Crystal Lake Independence Day Parade.

In the letter, Zinke said his hand position was taken out of context and had no ill intentions. The letter went on to explain that the blogger and political opponents have made "despicable" accusations since he announced his candidacy. He then reiterated his commitment to the office and thanked the recipients of the email for their support.

The email was sent at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday.

"During my 25-year career of chasing and apprehending criminals, nothing has ever been so dangerous as my run for office," the email said. "I know many of you have been victimized by similar lies and accusations, and I respect your professionalism and guidance throughout the political process."

The state ethics code prohibits state employees from using government resources for campaign activity – a law that Oak Park attorney Richard Means said Zinke clearly violated.

Means, who specializes in campaign law, said the email is a clear violation of state code. Means said it could be reviewed by county or state ethics boards. Punishments generally include unpaid suspensions, Means said.

Means also said there may be no official consequences at all and the biggest blow could come at election time.

"This is only worth fractions of a cent or the time it took to compose the letter, so no one bothers to prosecute or punish it," Means said. "Usually the embarrassment of it being noted in a political campaign is enough punishment."

Zinke said he does not believe he violated any laws and felt compelled to write the letter after he received calls from some board members saying they had received copies of the picture at home or their place of work.

He said he could not ignore the personal attacks any longer.

"As a rule I generally ignore these people, but when such malicious conduct is going on, I felt the need to express the truth," Zinke said. "My opponents have stooped so low nothing surprises me anymore."

Zinke is running against former Des Plaines Police Chief Bill Prim on the Republican ticket in the March 2014 primary for county sheriff. Zinke and Prim's supporters, including the local blogger who posted the picture, have engaged in heated and personal exchanges during the campaign.

The winner of the GOP primary would face independent candidate Jim Harrison, a labor lawyer and former sheriff's department deputy.