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DeVore intervenes in Rep. Caulkins’ assault weapons ban lawsuit over campaign donations

Attorney Tom DeVore, left, has asked a judge to order state Rep. Dan Caulkins to return all donations to his campaign fund stemming from a lawsuit against Illinois' assault weapons ban.

DECATUR — There’s a new legal spat between two parties on the same side of the gun rights issue in Illinois.

An attorney who won a court ruling against the state’s new assault weapons ban has a problem with how a similar lawsuit was filed.

State Rep. Dan Caulkins, a Republican who represents parts of McLean County, filed a lawsuit to stop Illinois’ new assault weapons ban. A southern Illinois judge struck down the law a few days earlier, but the ruling applied to fewer than 900 plaintiffs, not the entire state. An Illinois appeals court on Tuesday upheld the lower court ruling.

Caulkins said he has about 900 gun owners and firearms dealers joining in his lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritzker, Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch, Illinois Senate President Don Harmon and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Several who signed up for the lawsuit claim they’ve been duped, according to a new court filing.

Caulkins asks anyone who joins the lawsuit to contribute $200 to his legal defense fund that is actually Caulkins’ political campaign fund.

“Dan should have went to law school is what I would tell him, and he didn’t,” said Tom DeVore, the attorney who filed the first lawsuit against the assault weapons ban. He called Caulkins’ actions “suspect.”

“I find it odd that a politician would solicit funds from citizens for legal defense of a law like this and then have them submit them to his campaign account,” DeVore said.

Caulkins said he believes his legal defense fund is above board because he’s not collecting donations to enrich himself. He’s said he’s trying to overturn a law he sees as unjust.

“The legal expenses are to benefit all of us,” he said.

Caulkins said he was clear to anyone who wanted to donate and no one was forced to pay anything to join his lawsuit.

“Everything that we’ve sent out has been perfectly clear. Where to send the money has been perfectly clear,” he said.

The lawsuits are similar in content.

DeVore argued successfully the ban on assault-style weapons violates equal protection provisions because the ban does not, for example, apply to military members, but it does to retired military.

Caulkins said he offered to pay DeVore $5,000 for a copy of his legal filings. DeVore said he refused to accept payment and turned the documents over to Caulkins’ attorneys at no charge.

“Dan Caulkins merely plagiarized the legal arguments that I made. I’m OK with that,” DeVore said.

There’s one key difference between the two lawsuits. Anyone who joins the Caulkins lawsuit is not listed as a plaintiff. Instead, they are members of an unincorporated association called the Law-Abiding Gun Owners of Macon County. Caulkins said that way, those who are suing can stay secret, and would never be called for a deposition.

Caulkins said anyone who feels uncomfortable with the donations to his campaign fund can get their money back.

“If they made a donation which some have, I made it perfectly clear that I would refund any donation made,” said Caulkins, noting DeVore charges his clients $200 each.

“If it were Mr. DeVore, that would be $180,000 in his pocket,” Caulkins said.

Caulkins and DeVore clearly agree on the assault weapons ban. Both are Republicans. DeVore recently mounted an unsuccessful bid for Illinois attorney general.

Caulkins said he appreciates DeVore’s “trailblazing” lawsuit that opened the door for others to challenge the assault weapons ban. DeVore filed court papers asking a Macon County judge to order Caulkins to return all donations.

DeVore scoffs at any suggestion he and Caulkins are competing for clients.

“I can’t image Dan is looking to take people’s money. I don’t see him as that kind of guy, but to say we are competing for the same clients is laughable. I’ve got enough clients,” DeVore replied.

On the question of whether the donations are legal, that’s a gray area. Matt Dietrich is spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections. He said this is unchartered territory.

“The Illinois Election Code and the Illinois Campaign Finance Act do not specifically allow this situation and they don’t explicitly prohibit this use of campaign funds,” said Dietrich, adding the state elections board would take up the matter if someone files a complaint.

A hearing in the Caulkins’ lawsuit is scheduled for Friday.

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