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Madison County chairman ‘reconsidered’ campaign donors, accepts vendor funds

Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler speaks into a microphone at a desk.
Derik Holtmann
/
Belleville News-Democrat
The Madison County Board voted 19-6 to remove powers from County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler during a special meeting of the board.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Kurt Prenzler says he “reconsidered” his opinion on the issue of accepting campaign donations from donors, an issue that has been hotly debated in the Republican primary race forMadison County Board chairman.

Prenzler, 68, of Edwardsville, is the incumbent facing current county treasurer Chris Slusser, 46, of Wood River on the March 19 ballot. Slusser has alleged that Prenzler has accepted more than $80,000 in donations from county vendors, after he pledged in 2016 that he would not accept donations from anyone who does business with Madison County.

“I guess ethics only matter for Kurt Prenzler when he thinks the voters aren’t paying attention,” Slusser said. “Well, fellow Republican voters are now paying attention, and the receipts don’t lie.”

Prenzler said that vow was made when he was treasurer running against former Chairman Alan Dunstan, because in that role he made all the purchasing decisions for his office.

“As chairman, I don’t have a vote in committees or in the big county board meetings,” he said. “I don’t vote on purchases.”

Thus, Prenzler said, he reconsidered his position on campaign donors, including those who do business with the county. In some of the cases Slusser listed, Prenzler said “I honestly didn’t even know they were selling to the county… There’s no political influence.”

The topic was raised with Prenzler last month when he members of the county board voted to formally censure him for handing a vendor a business card listing his political achievements and campaign information, instead of a card issued by county for his role as board chairman.

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler’s “campaign-type” business cards, as described by the county’s ethic’s adviser, are shown next to examples of official county business cards.
Madison County Government
Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler’s “campaign-type” business cards, as described by the county’s ethic’s adviser, are shown next to examples of official county business cards.

Weeks prior to the censure vote, Bruce Mattea, a Collinsville attorney, stated in an investigative report that Prenzler violated a county ethics ordinance. He said the vendors could interpret the campaign business card as a solicitation for donations and infer that contributions could buy favor for future contracts or services.

“This innuendo is highly improper, it diminishes public confidence, and such actions could lead to distrust of the County’s elected officials,” Mattea wrote. “It reinforces the concept of political quid-pro-quo.

“It could result in the albeit mistaken impression on the part of the recipient that a political contribution to the Chairman’s campaign would result in economic advantage to the vendor.”

Prenzler admitted it as a mistake, but said he did not believe it was as serious as the county board members did and accused them of making a “mountain out of a molehill.”

The vote was 16-6 in favor of censure, which Prenzler called “a lynching,” a comment that immediately drew additional criticism.

“Based on Mr. Prenzler's long-documented track record of hounding county vendors for political donations since he became chairman, I think it’s easy to draw the conclusion that he was attempting to shake down another county vendor in this instance,” Slusser said. “I think he should honor his original promise to the voters, and return all of the 150 donations from county vendors immediately.”

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler listens as other members discuss a formal censure for handing a business card for his campaign to a vendor wanting to do business with the county. Prenzler, who is being challenged in the upcoming primary election by another Republican, Chris Slusser, said it was a simple mistake and that the censure vote was politically driven.
Belleville News-Democrat
Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler listens as other members discuss a formal censure for handing a business card for his campaign to a vendor wanting to do business with the county. Prenzler, who is being challenged in the upcoming primary election by another Republican, Chris Slusser, said it was a simple mistake and that the censure vote was politically driven.

That total amount of those contributions was more than $82,000, according to Slusser and verified by campaign disclosure records.

As of the last quarter of 2023, Citizens for Kurt Prenzler showed $58,219 in funds available. At least one of the donations — $2,500 from Erb Equipment of Mitchell in December and again in February – was made after Slusser made his accusation.

As of the same time period, Citizens for Chris Slusser closed the quarter with $63,654 in funds available.

Slusser has been endorsed by all the other Republican county leaders, including State’s Attorney Tom Haine and Auditor David Michael. He has also been endorsed by multiple unions, including Collinsville, Highland and Edwardsville firefighters and Granite City police.

Elizabeth Donald is a freelance reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Elizabeth Donald is a freelance journalist based in the Metro East.