Joseph Topinka

The son of former Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka struck out in court last month when a Cook County Circuit Court judge dismissed his law suit seeking to gain control of a little less than half of the money left in his late mother’s campaign fund. 

Joseph Baar Topinka, the son and only child of the late longtime Illinois legislator, treasurer and comptroller, had sued his mother’s closest aide and the treasurer of her campaign fund, claiming that $341,618.52 should be handed over to him as the executor of his mother’s estate. 

Judy Baar Topinka died in December 2014 one month after winning re-election to a second term as state comptroller. At the end of 2015 her campaign fund, Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka, still had $840,769.03 in its coffers.

In his lawsuit, Topinka claimed that $341,618.52 of the $840,769.03 left in the campaign fund should be given to him as executor of his mother’s estate, because that is the amount that was in the campaign fund as of June 30, 1998. 

Prior to 1999 candidates could transfer money from their campaign funds to themselves for personal use as long as they paid taxes on the amount transferred. Now it is against the law to use or transfer campaign money for personal or family use.

In statement released by a spokesperson when he filed the lawsuit, Topinka told the Landmark that he wanted to use the money to promote “the educational endeavors of Illinois youth” and “to build a living memorial to my mother and her career by helping people become active in public affairs.” 

Topinka has created the Topinka Charitable Foundation to continue that work.

Joseph Topinka also claimed that Nancy Kimme, his mother’s closest aide and now the chairwoman of the Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka, improperly received a payment of $25,000 for personal services from the campaign fund after Judy Baar Topinka died. 

Kimme has said that was a payment for services rendered and that Judy Baar Topinka typically paid campaign workers stipends after an election.

Cook County Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos dismissed the lawsuit on March 24, ruling that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case and that Topinka lacked the legal standing to bring the lawsuit. 

Demacopoulos ruled that the matter should be decided by the Illinois State Board of Elections in under its procedures for an administrative hearing.

“Since plaintiff never made a financial contribution to the committee, he has no standing to seek its funds,” Demacopoulos wrote in her eight-page decision.

According to Chris Robling, a Riverside resident and the owner of a public relations firm who is acting as Joseph Topinka’s spokesman, the late comptroller’s son is preparing both an appeal of Demacopoulos’ ruling and will be filing an administrative complaint with the Illinois Board of Elections. 

Riverside resident and former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica is the lawyer representing Topinka in the lawsuit.

Scott Burnham, of the Chicago public affairs public relations firm Serafin and Associates, is serving as the spokesman for Citizens for Topinka. He said he was pleased by the judge’s ruling.

“We were confident all along that the facts of this case were never in dispute,” Burnham said in a prepared statement emailed to the Landmark. “There is no evidence whatsoever that Comptroller Topinka’s son is entitled to money from his mother’s political committee. Comptroller Topinka never attempted to use any of the committee’s funds for her or her family’s use even though she had the option to do so for more than 15 years prior to her death. In fact, she gave specific instructions to the contrary upon the committee’s dissolution.”

The statement of organization on file with the Illinois Board of Elections specifies that any money left in the campaign fund when the Citizens for Judy Baar Topinka campaign fund is dissolved are to be transferred to the Riverside Township Regular Republican Organization.

The lead lawyer representing the campaign was Michael Kasper, a leading election lawyer who formerly served as general counsel to Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan.