Kirk, 52, and Kimberly Vertolli, 39, divorced in 2009 after nearly eight years of marriage. McCracken, 54, worked on Kirk's first House race, and later served as a top aide in Washington, and Elk confirmed to the Tribune that Kirk and McCracken "were involved" after the then-Congressman's separation from Vertolli in 2008. Kirk and McCracken lived together in Illinois and Washington, D.C., from June 2011 until January, and apparently remain friends.
According to the Tribune, "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, the PR firm led by McCracken.
Kirk backed two such bills while he was in the House. One for the Disabled Veterans' LIFE Memorial Foundation netted the group $2.81 million. Another, for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, brought the group around $2.5 million. In December, Kirk was among five co-sponsors to a bill that could bring the March of Dimes as much as $5 million. The Tribune reports that Congress is allowed to pass only two commemorative coin bills a year. The coins are sold at a surcharge, and groups compete with each other to reap the benefits.
March of Dimes paid Arcadian Partners $54,000 in lobbying fees for its work.
Eric Elk, Kirk's chief of staff, said Kirk was not trying to help McCracken with the bills, calling the suggestion "a baseless and unfounded allegation."
Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore School of Law professor and former deputy general counsel of the House of Representatives, told the Tribune he did not think rules were broken in this case. Senate ethics rules prohibit lawmakers from pushing legislation to financially benefit themselves or immediate family members. Girlfriends apparently are ok.
"It's a question of appearances," he said, "not a violation of hard-and-fast congressional ethics rules."
Kirk suffered a stroke in January. Earlier this month, he released a video showing his rehabilitation work, and discussing his hope to one day "climb the 45 steps that my staff counted, from the parking lot to the Senate front door, to fight for the people of Illinois."