As Sen. Mark Kirk's post-stroke rehabilitation continues, the Illinois Republican appears to have an unfortunate controversy awaiting his return to Capitol Hill.
Last week, Kirk's ex-wife filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that, during his 2010 campaign, the Republican hid campaign funds he directed to his then-girlfriend, after buying his ex-wife's silence.
Late last week, the story got a little more complicated for the senator (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk was a leading sponsor of congressional legislation that has meant $5.3 million for two clients of his onetime girlfriend, and he is backing another bill that could bring millions of dollars to a third group she represented.
Kirk supported bills directing the Treasury Department to mint and sell collectible coins, with a surcharge for three nonprofit groups -- all of which had hired Arcadian Partners, a public relations firm led by Dodie McCracken, Kirk's ex-girlfriend and former congressional staffer.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Congress is "allowed to pass only two commemorative coin bills a year, creating fierce competition among organizations, with some hiring lobbyists and public relations professionals to influence lawmakers."
In this case, Dodie McCracken's firm wanted its clients to have the inside track on the lucrative commemorative coins, and wouldn't you know it, Kirk also wanted to lend a hand to groups that had hired his girlfriend.
To be sure, it could be a coincidence -- maybe Kirk just liked these specific organizations, and it just so happens they hired his then-girlfriend's p.r. firm -- but the circumstances raise legitimate questions about the lawmaker's motivations.
Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore School of Law professor and former deputy general counsel of the House of Representatives, told the Tribune Kirk's conduct may not have crossed the legal/ethical line, but said, "It's a question of appearances."
Kirk will presumably have these questions and more waiting for him once his health improves. For now, his office has dismissed allegations of impropriety as "baseless and unfounded."