A recent Wichita Eagle news story jogged readers’ memories about the company that’s the target of the story, Cornejo & Sons, Inc., and their campaign contributions a few years back. The company asked some of its employees to make campaign contributions, and then the employees were reimbursed. That’s illegal.
A Wichita Eagle story from April 27, 2003 states: “A former administrative assistant for the Cornejo & Sons construction firm says company executives sought campaign donations from employees and then walked around the office illegally reimbursing workers with stacks of $50 and $100 bills.”
In this story, Ron Cornejo, the company president, denied the making the reimbursements.
But two days later the Eagle reported: “The president of Cornejo & Sons admitted Monday that the construction firm reimbursed employees who donated money to pro-landfill candidates for Wichita mayor and Sedgwick County Commission — a practice that violates state law. Company president Ron Cornejo issued a statement saying that he and his company are cooperating with state ethics investigators and gathering data on the contributions that were made by the employees in 2002 and 2003.”
The next day Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston announced the launching of a criminal investigation.
On August 21, 2003, according to Eagle reporting, “the state ethics commission fined Wichita-based Cornejo & Sons Inc. $15,000.” An Eagle editorial called this “a slap on the wrist.”
All candidates who received the money — a mix of Wichita mayoral, city council, and Sedgwick county commission candidates, one still in office — were cleared of any wrongdoing by the ethics commission. I couldn’t find any news stories about the result of the DA’s investigation, so I inquired at the office. But it appears that no charges were ever filed.
It’s thought that the contributions were supporting Cornejo’s substantial contracts with the City of Wichita, and also the company’s effort to gain approval to build a landfill near Furley. The construction landfill that’s the subject of the recent Eagle article wasn’t mentioned as the motivating factor for these contributions.