The person who secretly recorded a member of U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos' staff is a former campaign worker for opponent Bobby Schilling who appeared in Bustos' office wearing a cleric's collar.
Austin Quick, 33, was paid a $3,792 salary in 2009 to work for Schilling's 2010 congressional campaign, records show. He currently is a seminary student at Mundelein Seminary in the Chicago suburbs.
Schilling campaign spokesman Jon Schweppe on Tuesday declined to identify Quick, adding, "He's not associated with our campaign in any way."
On Thursday, he clarified that Quick has not been a paid staffer in the current campaign.
"Austin Quick has not been involved in the campaign against Cheri (Bustos)," Schweppe said.
He said no one from the campaign asked Quick to make the recording. In a Facebook post dated the same week the recording was made, Quick posted a photo of Schilling and his wife and remarked on having had dinner together.
Contacted by phone Thursday, Quick would not say why he made the secret recording. Asked whether he was denying having covertly recorded Bustos' district director, Heidi Schultz, he replied, "I'm saying there's no proof to that."
Schultz, who resigned her post Monday, said she was provided a photo of Quick and is certain he is the man who appeared in her Rock Island district office late last year, asking about her boss' position on abortion.
"I was the only person in the office, and it was right before the holiday," she said. "He was the only man who asked about Cheri's position on abortion and certainly the only one I believed to be a priest, because he was wearing a collar."
As a seminarian, Quick is pictured in a photo on the Diocese of Rockford's website wearing a clerical collar.
Schilling's campaign released a portion of the audio recording Tuesday. A full version of the recording, which Schweppe said was turned over to the campaign by Quick about three months ago, was provided with the caveat that it not be publicly released. In it, Quick identifies himself only as Austin.
During a brief discussion, Quick asked Schultz how constituents in other portions of the district regard Bustos' pro-abortion rights stance:
Quick: "But the other areas, like Rockford or Peoria or those areas?"
Schultz: "You know, I don't spend a lot of time in those areas. I don't think — I've never heard anything in Rockford. You've gotta understand, the part of Rockford we have, though —"
Quick: "Is pretty rural? Or, pretty, no, urban, isn't it?"
Schultz: "Very, very urban, very poor, very underprivileged. Not people that, um, spend a lot of time in church (laughs). More in jail (laughs) than church.”
The conversation led to Schultz's resignation. Bustos categorized the remarks as "unacceptable on every front."
Schultz said she had a specific recollection of the conversation. After her resignation, she asked around about Schilling supporters with the first name of Austin who might be a priest.
"Someone showed me a picture of this guy, and I knew it was him," she said Thursday. "I had no doubt."
Schweppe said the Schilling campaign protected Quick's identity, because privacy was important to him.
"He's in a situation where this could impact his career," he said, reiterating that Quick was not asked to make the recording. "He went there unprovoked — without any instruction from us. He gave us the recording. I've never even met Austin."
He also said the campaign sought a legal opinion on the very existence of the recording, given that in late 2013, Illinois statute required two-party consent for an audio recording to be made. But a spring 2014 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the requirement that both parties be aware.
"This is something that happens in politics," Schweppe said. "Austin is in the clear."
Schultz, whose husband is a Rock Island attorney, said she is pursuing her own opinion. She said she regrets what she said to Quick but said she believed at the time she was talking to a priest.
"They're sure worried about protecting this guy's career, but they didn't care about destroying mine," she said.
The Bustos campaign declined to comment on the development.