BLOOMINGTON — The Democratic candidate for the 18th Congressional District blasted his Republican opponent Tuesday morning for using taxpayer money to promote his campaign.

Junius Rodriguez said Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood of from Dunlap committed “abuses of power” allowed by incumbency by opening a new office in Bloomington and sending a taxpayer-funded promotional mailer a few months before the election. He promised to introduce bills in Congress to eliminate both practices in the run-up to an election. 

While LaHood's staff defended his opening of an office at 3004 General Electric Road in Bloomington on Monday as a way to improve constituent service, Rodriguez called it an example of LaHood using taxpayer money to promote his re-election campaign.

“When a politician makes this type of decision just 10 weeks before a contested election, it is hard to view it as anything more than a crass political ploy to score points using the taxpayer's dime,” he said Tuesday at a news conference at the McLean County Democratic headquarters in Bloomington.

“While one can certainly find merit in providing greater constituent services to residents of the county that, by curious coincidence, has the largest population of the 19 counties in the district, does the timing of this announcement and the opening date of the office strike anyone as unusual?”

LaHood has represented the 18th Congressional District since a special election last fall following Peoria Republican Aaron Schock’s resignation.

Congressmen are allotted money to open and operate offices within their districts.

“I challenge him to self-finance the operations and staffing of that new office for the next few months from the campaign war chest that he has accumulated over the years,” Rodriguez said.

LaHood’s communications director, J.D. Dalfonso, told The Pantagraph on Tuesday the Bloomington office will provide another avenue for LaHood and his staff to help residents beyond previously established offices in Jacksonville, Springfield and Peoria. 

“Constituent service is the top priority for Darin,” he said. “From the day he took office in September, Darin has worked to fulfill his commitment to set up an office in Bloomington, and he’s proud to have established the first 18th District office in McLean County — something none of his predecessors had done."

LaHood shares the office space with state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.

Rodriguez, a professor at Eureka College, also questioned the validity of a taxpayer-funded mailer sent to district residents highlighting LaHood’s work as congressman. 

“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said. “I don’t believe in self-promotion.”

Rodriguez promised to introduce two bills to remedy the problem. One would prohibit any incumbent from opening a new district office within six months of any general election, and the second would prohibit use of government money to mail campaign literature within three months of an election.

​Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow.

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Staff Writer for The Pantagraph.

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