Illinois Law Firm Fined for Illegal Donations to Failed Democratic Candidate

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March 16, 2021

An Illinois law firm was slapped with a $14,500 fine for illegally reimbursing employees’ donations to a failed Democratic candidate, newly released FEC documents show. 

Keefe, Keefe & Unsell, P.C., a medical malpractice and personal injury law firm, was fined for conducting a "straw donor" scheme to benefit C.J. Baricevic, who ran to represent Illinois' 12th Congressional District in 2016. Seven employees gave a total of $18,900 to Baricevic's campaign at the request of the firm's owner, Thomas Keefe Jr., considered one of America's top lawyers.

According to the FEC documents, on March 2, 2016, the employees—including an attorney, receptionist, and two secretaries—donated the maximum contribution of $2,700 to Baricevic's campaign. The firm later reimbursed employees for their contributions, in violation of campaign finance law.

"Straw donations are one of the most serious and egregious violations of campaign finance law," said Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, who filed the complaint over the scheme nearly five years ago. "Sometimes the system takes a long time to work, and, although ideally it would have been resolved sooner, it is a good thing that there has finally been some accountability in this case."

Keefe, Keefe & Unsell, P.C. did not respond to a request for comment on their violation. 

The FEC is gradually working through a massive backlog of enforcement cases. In 2020, the commission was unable to operate for a majority of the year due to it only having three members. At least four members are needed to meet to issue advisory opinions and enforce campaign finance law. It wasn't until December that quorum was restored with six members and the commission was allowed to operate again.