ROBERTS – It remained unclear Friday afternoon who funded the mass-mailing of political flyers that were sent to residents of Ford County opposing the candidacy of two women running for seats on the county board.
For years, Cindy Ihrke of rural Roberts and Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley have been urging Ford County officials to adopt stricter regulations for wind farms – specifically, rules that would help protect the health, safety and property rights of rural landowners.
In the Nov. 6 general election, the two Republican women are running for two available seats representing District 2 on the Ford County Board. They are opposed by two Democratic candidates – Marcia Peznowski of Roberts and Lori Reinert of Piper City.
The two mass-mailings sent to Ford County residents in recent days oppose the Ihrkes’ candidacy based on their feelings that tighter regulations need to be adopted for wind farms.
One of the flyers says: “If Cindy and Ann Ihrke get their way, Ford County will lose out on: new, high-paying construction jobs and investment in local businesses; new revenue to improve our schools, roadways and public safety; resources to support our farmers; (and) homegrown, clean energy for our community.”
No organization or person is listed on either flyer as having paid for the mailings.
However, the Ford County Record has been able to confirm that the mailings came from the office of Jeffrey A. Ruppert, owner of The Ruppert Co., which has done work for the campaigns of several Democratic candidates in Ohio and also has worked with Innovation Ohio, a Democratic think tank that works to “help push forward progressive policy solutions that improve our economy and strengthen middle-class families.”
The Columbus, Ohio, return address listed on each of the two mass-mailings – 35 E. Gay St., Suite 403 – is the same address Ruppert lists on The Ruppert Co.’s website.
It is also the same address listed on Innovation Ohio’s website. However, a woman who answered the phone at the Innovation Ohio office Friday said her organization was not involved with the mailings.
The woman noted that Ruppert rents an office in the same building and often does work with election campaigns. She said Ruppert was not in his office Friday, but she said she would forward him a message to call the Ford County Record.
On Friday, Ruppert did not immediately return that message, as well as another message left with The Ruppert Co.
The Ihrkes said they were shocked when they became aware of the mass-mailings. They still do not know who paid for the flyers to be printed and mailed.
The Ihrkes thought it might be the developer of a wind farm in Ford County. Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., which has been developing the Ford Ridge Wind Farm in the Gibson City and Sibley area, has taken out advertisements in the local newspaper in recent months expressing the need for the county board to adopt more relaxed rules for wind farms than the Ihrkes have sought.
Erin Baker, senior development manager for Apex, said Friday that she was aware of the flyers but did not know who paid for them.
“Our project definitely didn’t pay for the mailings,” Baker said. “Our project doesn’t know anything about this, and I actually haven’t seen any of the flyers myself.”
The Ihrkes’ two Democratic opponents also denied knowing anything about the flyers, adding that they do not condone such political tactics.
“First of all, it’s not our style,” Peznowski said. “This is ridiculous. You don’t have to get real hateful (in an election race), and that’s kind of what (the mailings) does. Second of all, do you have any clue how much it costs to do those things? I’m a widow; I don’t have any money to do that. It’s very sad that they have to resort to that.”
Said Reinert: “We were not in any way, shape or form affiliated with that, and I’m somewhat disappointed at that tactic. The negativity isn’t needed in this political climate.”
The Ihrkes said they have called a lawyer for the Republican party of Illinois to look into anything illegal about the flyers. Ann Ihrke said she also called the Illinois State Board of Elections.
If paid for by a political candidate or political action committee, the flyers would need to have the name of the organization or person listed on them, Ann Ihrke said. However, if paid for by a private company not affiliated with a candidate, that may not be the case, she said.
Whether the flyers can even be considered political mailings is another issue. They were carefully worded, the Ihrkes said, so as to not ask voters to “vote for” or “vote against” any specific candidate.
“It doesn’t directly say, ‘Don’t vote for’ or ‘vote for’ this person,” Cindy Ihrke said. “It’s very well-worded to get around being considered a political mailing.”
Other than agreeing to an interview with the Ford County Record, the Ihrkes are not sure how to respond to the flyers.
“We’ve been thinking long and hard about it,” Cindy Ihrke said. “I am a working mother of three children, and we don’t have millions of dollars behind us to do a countywide mailer. So to counter something like that is beyond my budget.”
“Part of us thought, ‘Do we really want to respond to it at all?’” Ann Ihrke added, “because the feedback we’re getting from all the people in this county is that they’re really upset that an outside place would come in and try to influence our local election here.”
The Ihrkes said the messages contained in the flyers are not in line with their actual views.
“It’s bullying, and it’s completely false,” Cindy Ihrke said. “My heart is in this county. I want to see this county succeed, and I think Ann does, too.”
Ann Ihrke explained that in 1970, she, her husband and four others bought land near Roberts and turned it into hunting grounds called the Green Acres Sportsman’s Club. The business is now run by Cindy Ihrke and her husband, employing 29 people.
Although the Ihrkes do support ensuring the safety, health and property rights of all people in Ford County when it comes to regulating wind farms, neither stands against the wind energy industry. They just want the rules in place to ensure there are no “negative impacts” on the county’s residents.
“These flyers are trying to say that we just don’t want any growth or anything, and that’s just plain false,” Cindy Ihrke said.
“They keep trying to paint us as ‘anti-wind,’ but we just want properties protected for everybody,” Ann Ihrke said.
“If this was any other industry, I’d be asking for the same thing,” Cindy Ihrke added.