Sen. Mark Kirk’s (R-IL) campaign staff mingled with protesters at an event featuring his reelection challenger Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on Monday. One demonstrator told a reporter he expected to be paid “by the man who sponsored” the protest.

About a dozen or so protesters disrupted an event in Chicago on Monday featuring Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) — who is challenging Sen. Mark Kirk (R) this November — shouting anti-Duckworth slogans and holding signs saying she was picked by Washington insiders.

But it appears that the protest may not have been what it seemed. The Chicago Tribune reported that one protester asked their reporter “whether Duckworth is a Democrat or a Republican, then said he expected to get paid for his time outside Pearl’s ‘by the man who sponsored’ the protest.”

It’s unclear who sponsored the protesters or organized their attendance, but the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Kirk campaign field director Matthew Custardo “mingled with the protesters” outside the event, and video obtained by BNR shows him handing out coffee to them:


In addition, BNR has learned that an attendee of the event recognized some of the protesters as residents of a local homeless shelter. Several of the protest signs, pictured below, were duplicates and appeared to be written with the same hand:

protesters' signs at the Duckworth event

Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl dismissed the notion that they organized or paid the Duckworth protesters, telling the Tribune that there was only one staffer at the event who was “simply there as part of his regular duties tracking Duckworth at events and had nothing to do with the protest.”

But an Illinois Democratic party official told BNR that there were two Kirk staffers there, Kirk’s regular campaign tracker (pictured below in a gray hat) and Custardo, who was shown in the video above.

Screen shot of unity rally protest.

Illinois State Representative Christian Mitchell tweeted his reaction to the protest:

BNR reached out to the Kirk campaign for comment but did not hear back by press time.

Ben Armbruster contributed to this story.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)