Mark Wilson/Getty
August 12, 2015 08:05 PM

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012, put his live-in caregiver on his campaign payroll, according to records and interviews.

Finance records show Kirk’s campaign paid the caregiver, Mervyn Fombe-Abiko, a salary of more than $43,000 from August 2013 to the end of 2014, the Chicago Tribune reports.

However, Kirk’s campaign manager, Kevin Artl, says the Illinois Republican did things “by the book,” personally paying Fombe-Abiko for caregiver services and ensuring that he was paid separately by the campaign for an entry-level job doing data entry, stuffing envelopes and driving Kirk to political events.

“Information … clearly and explicitly outlined a dual employment arrangement, approved by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics that allowed Senator Kirk to pay for his caregiver with his own personal funds while paying for his campaign work with campaign funds,” Artl says in a statement to PEOPLE. “Why this fact was omitted from the [Chicago Tribune] story is unclear but what is certain is that Senator Kirk did everything by the book in a clear and transparent manner.”

Fombe-Abiko – who had no prior campaign experience, according to the Associated Press – was arrested twice on theft and fraud charges in 2013 and 2014, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Kirk’s campaign says he and Fombe-Abiko “mutually parted ways” at the end of 2014, adding that the senator was “saddened” to learn about Fombe-Abiko’s arrests, but hoped he would “begin making the right choices.”

The nonpartisan campaign reform organization Campaign Legal Center is now questioning whether Kirk used political donations for personal expenses.

Paul Ryan, senior counsel for the group, tells the AP, “If the expense existed irrespective of whether Sen. Kirk was a candidate or officeholder, then he cannot pay for it with campaign funds. It seems to me that Sen. Kirk had these home care expenses irrespective of his candidacy.”

Ryan added that the senator, who is currently seeking re-election in what is sure to be one of 2016’s most competitive races, should have gone through the FEC and not the Senate’s ethics committee to approve his arrangement with Fombe-Abiko.

“The place to get an opinion about what is proper is to go to the Federal Election Commission,” he says. “Before you use campaign funds, before it becomes questioned, you should go to the FEC.”

Artl, meanwhile, tells PEOPLE that “a former FEC Chairman approved the arrangement,” and calls the accusations against Kirk a “smear campaign” that is “clearly false.”

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