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Fallout continues - Updated x1

Tuesday, Sep 12, 2006 - Posted by Rich Miller

Eric Zorn thinks the check scandal could resonate with voters. I agree.

Whatever legal judgments are ultimately made about this situation, right now this is looking a lot like Blagojevich’s “cash-from-janitors” moment.

In the trial of former Gov. George Ryan, you may remember, testimony was that he used to accept cash gifts every Christmas from low-paid custodians and clerical workers in his office. He wasn’t charged with this unseemly pocket-stuffing, but it was such an easy-to-understand and fundamentally offensive act of arrogant greed that it came to define his character in the public mind.

Allegations about hinky contracts, leases and job connections can be hard to follow and riddled with he-said, she-said accounts of dealings unfamiliar to most of us.

My Big Fat Birthday Gift, in contrast, is a story we can all understand: The governor accepted a substantial check in his daughter’s name from the family of a newly hired state employee who was married to his best friend.

It’s still early, but the explanations we’ve heard to date from Blagojevich and the Ascaridises are explanations that anyone who has ever given or received a gift can test against his own experience:

And the State Journal-Register’s editorial page makes an excellent point by noting that the governor may have violated his own ethics rules.

Actually, what is outrageous is that Blagojevich would be willing to accept a $1,500 check within days of providing the check writer’s wife a $45,000-per-year job. Remember that ethics training that thousands of state employees recently rushed through? One section dealt with the state gift ban. “As a state employee, neither you, your spouse nor any member of your immediate family can ordinarily accept a gift of any value from someone who wants the state or a state employee to take or not take an official action.” See how important it is to slow down and read everything?

If it turns out that rule was violated in this case, the $1,500 check could end up being the most expensive birthday present anyone ever accepted.

UPDATE: From a Joe Birkett press release:

…”Rod Blagojevich has an obligation to explain this troubling revelation by coming forward personally and explaining the details of the transaction. He needs to stop hiding behind spokespeople and lawyers.”

Birkett also called for Blagojevich to:

•Produce the check to show when it was written and into which account it was deposited.

•Detail other “birthday” gifts given to that same daughter by Mike Ascaridis, the check writer, to see if the $1,500 was out of the ordinary.

•Explain his conversations with Ascaridis about the $1,500 check.

•Detail other gifts he has accepted as governor - many of which he only recently acknowledged receiving after he was questioned by the FBI in 2005.


  1. - Wheres the leadership??? - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 9:15 am:

    This Administration’s motto: Don’t do as I do…Do as I say!!!!

  2. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 9:47 am:

    The kiddie check scandal has become the story around here. Even formerly quiet voters are spouting off about how unethical Blagojevich is.

  3. - Big W - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 9:53 am:

    I do believe we are all tired of the pay to play game. Blago made that a campaign promise,”Business not as usual” and to no avail Blago has become the laughing stock of the Democratic party….my party is now worse than the other party by making that promise! I am now voting for the the woman who says “Says” she is different and will bring change,,,,,I guess we keep voting out the scumbags until we find a decent person!!!! If an indictment come down after the Dems vote Blago in office there will be alot of egg on alot of people and quite embarrassing!!! Better get rid of him while we still can save the honor of the Democtratic party! My suggestion is Vote Topinka!

  4. - Big W - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 9:57 am:

    Oh, I forgot to say this…..the Republicans voted out Scum Ryan to save face, We Dems better do the same! But it will be hard to beat Blago because this type of Politics is all the Chicago people know……Read the times every day about Daley and his mob!

  5. - NoneOfTheAbove - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 9:58 am:

    Blago could get a shoebox filled with cash and it’s not gonna outweigh Topinka’s ties to George Ryan for voters in this election.

  6. - Leroy - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 10:00 am:

    >Eric Zorn thinks the check scandal could resonate with voters.

    Eh, nothing $10 mil in campaign funds + several hundred million in taxpayer pork won’t fix.

  7. - NoneOfTheAbove - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 10:18 am:

    If we want to talk about gifts, how about the estimated $20 million in free legal services Jim Thompson’s firm gave George Ryan? Would anyone who didn’t serve 2 terms as Big Jim’s lieutenant governor get that kind of attention?

    Yes, I know Ryan’s not running for anything, except from responsibility. I’m just curious.

  8. - Downtown - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 10:26 am:

    Hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned.
    Just the females alone that “hate him with every fiber of their being” should be enough to make the governor head for the hills.

  9. - Passionate Democrat - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 10:39 am:

    I am a most passionate Democrat but when Blago accepted the $1,500 check made out to Amy shortly after the check writer’s wife became a state employee, one thing thing to ask: WHAT WAS BLAGO THINKING?

  10. - North of I-80 - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 10:50 am:

    Do we know [publicly] who endorsed the check and into which account it was deposited ?
    Can’t wait to hear what our Governor did that ticked-off this lady so nicely…

  11. - IVote - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 11:09 am:

    The other part of this story — which I haven’t seen a lot about — is the hiring of this woman for a job in Whiteside County, then “transferring” the job to Chicago. Since the woman said she had no idea where Whiteside County is, I can assume she didn’t go to work there. Was she paid? If so she was clearly a “ghost payroller.” Real hard for Blago to claim he didn’t know about the “ghost payrolling” since he and the guy were “like brothers.” Even if she wasn’t paid during the month before the transfer, there’s still the issue of the scam to get around Veteran’s preferences. It’s not a real good time to be dumping on veterans right now, Blago! In the final analysis, this little story may very well may be Blago’s undoing.

  12. - fed-up state employee - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 11:21 am:

    I agree that the check looks suspicious (and state employee ethics training reminded us to avoid even the appearance of impropriety), and I’d be as happy as the next guy if this would lead to further investigation of the gov’s pay-to-play playbook. Just don’t lose sight of the millions of taxpayers’ dollars that Blago has given to his friends and political supporters in the form of no-bid contracts. Blago makes Ryan look like a piker.
    And for you state employee haters–just so you know–I’m on vacation.

  13. - Left Leaner - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 11:25 am:

    Rich, I agree with you and Zorn. This is going to resonate with voters (and non-voters for that matter).

  14. - schroedk - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 11:41 am:

    Between this weekend’s comments and now today’s about this story, one thing that resonates the strongest for me are the people who continue to be political hacks on either side of the spectrum. The Blago supporters say, in essence, “it’s no worse than what Ryan did” or “we’ll be vindicated when he’s reelected in November”. Meanwhile, the other side replies with “this is the tip of the iceberg”, among other things. Now, while I tend to agree more with the tip of the iceberg thing, I would love to remind EVERYONE that as Illinois and American voters/citizens/taxpayers, could we just stop with this political dedication, and demand from EVERY politician (both sides) some ethics, honesty, and accountability to us? It’s fun to point the finger at “the other side” when they screw up, but for goodness sake, let’s all admit that many politicians from both sides of the aisle are failing miserably at the ethics/honesty/accountability factors. Let’s reclaim this country from the politicians who are fiddling while America (and Illinois) “burn”.

  15. - Big W - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 11:54 am:

    excellent, schroedk, could’nt have said it better!!!!

  16. - IL Tollway - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 12:07 pm:

    Kiss you ( ! ) good-bye !
    If Governor Blagojevich wins this election on November 7, 2006 , he will continue to (illegally purge) a good many state of Illinois employees by using so-called efficiency experts (his friends and contributors). This is and will be the perfect vehicle for Governor Blagojevich to continue to add more high priced-dim-witted cronies to the state payroll.

  17. - Bill Baar - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 12:15 pm:

    Zorn’s got it right.

    …there’s still the issue of the scam to get around Veteran’s preferences. It’s not a real good time to be dumping on veterans right now, Blago!

    There has to have been a Veteran with more points ahead of her that blocked her in Dupage or Cook and pushed her out to Whiteside. There has to be a name of a Veteran who otherwise would have gotten this job.

  18. - It's Snowballing - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 1:10 pm:

    Looks like Blagojevich may have violated 3 different laws with one act. Accepted an improper bribe…err I mean gift, placed someone on the state payroll as a ghost employee, and circumvented Veterans hiring practices.

    I guess he is changing the way government works. He’s showing us he can violate 3 laws with one act, what a way to consolidate.

  19. - IrishPirate - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 1:39 pm:

    I can imagine the Topinka campaign ad now. I see the image of a birthday cake and a giant check for $1500. This will likely cost Blago the election as it is something people can understand. Shifting state employees, ignoring veterans preference, contracts, those are all complicated.

    $1500 check………..PRICELESS.

    What constantly amazes me is the greed of politicians. Relatively small amounts of money bring them down. Blago reminds me of Jim Laski. Undertalented, windbag who shakes down his friends for “gifts”.


  20. - Shallow Pharnyx - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 1:53 pm:

    I would like a tally of how many state positions were in Sangamon & surrounding counties vs. Chicago & the collar counties before Blago took office. Then I’d like to see a comparison to 2006 numbers. If you factor in how many positions were eliminated and then filled with “contractual employees” I think you’ll see a nice size shift from the capital to Chicago.
    Mrs. A is not the first person to have the job move to her- something for the Auditor General to peruse.

  21. - just watching - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 2:40 pm:

    None of the above:

    Are you talknig about the same law firm that has done hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal work for Blago. just one more similarity between george and Rod

  22. - Big W - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 2:50 pm:

    So, how many violations do we have against Blago now? This could be a great game, Rich!
    Closest to the correct # of indictments against Blago, wins! My head is spinning with so many alligations, so many lies, so many charges…..
    is’nt this a shame, all the other state laugh at us! and for good reason!

  23. - larry - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 2:58 pm:

    More of the same and yet blago is 12 points out in front??? It appears that the masses are asses ….Will the press DEMAND a Q&A? Regular Joe’s should insist the Gov. answer questions personally. I am tired of hearing the spin & lies from his spokepeople

  24. - Justice - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 3:04 pm:

    “We cannot afford to differ on the question of honesty if we expect our republic permanently to endure. Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public. Unless a man is honest, we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity.” — Theodore Roosevelt

  25. - larry - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 3:06 pm:

    I just reviewed the ICE ROCKET column on the right of your page. The Governor seems to be furioulsy issuing a flurry of press releases to try to compete with the “check Gate” story…..we’ll see

  26. - Inquiring Mind - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 3:44 pm:

    So who called the Tribune to tip them off to this story? Beverly? Da Feds?

  27. - Lou Nova - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 4:24 pm:

    Our glorious Governor is a reformer, a man with giant ideas and the best political leader this state has ever had. When He becomes President in a few years we will look back and realize how luck we were to have him run our state.

  28. - forgedaboutit - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 4:29 pm:

    The chicago machine will do what ever is neccasary to keep Blago in office. nothing short of a conviction will stop Gov. Elvis from winning another term With Blago the old saying “you get what you pay for” is being applied to state jobs and contracts. but he built a huge war chest by selling these jobs and non stop tv ads will save Blago you cant beat the kind of money advantage he has. So sorry GOPers 4 more years of the state for sale

  29. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 4:33 pm:

    I wonder how often a downstate job has been filled with a Crook Co. blago supporter and then have the person transfered to the chicago area after there hired. It’s a nice little scam the Gov. is pulling but I doubt it’s that little. how many downstate jobs have been filled by no show Blago campaign donors.

  30. - upset democrat - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 4:44 pm:

    Once again I know why I supported Poshard and Paul Vallas for Governor. The current Governor is my party’s version of Ryan. I am sick. I will be voting Green party for Governor this year to send a message that Illinois has to change.

  31. - Licensed in Illinois - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 5:06 pm:

    I just received my own piece of state-paid-for Blago campaign material: A full color post card telling me I can renew my professional license quickly online (but it’s like the SoS - costs more online). The gov’s name is prominently featured - the IDFPR Director’s name is small.

    Professional Regulation is so understaffed and full of inept cronies that professionals who want information on licensure in Illinois can wait up to 45 minutes on hold, only to be told there is no one there that can answer questions. They then try calling their professional organizations for licensure help since the state can’t or won’t provide any.

  32. - what a joke - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 5:29 pm:

    lou nova - are you on crack or on the campaign payroll? blago WILL NOT be president…he’ll be lucky to pull through on this election. but barack, well, he very well may end up in the white house.

  33. - Buck Flagojevich - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 5:47 pm:

    After reading the Tribune poll, I don’t think this check issue will matter in the least little bit. The “Average Joe” doesn’t even seem to notice or care about these things. As long as the government doesn’t increase the price of PBR or interrupt reruns of Joanie Loves Chachi, then this news won’t even register in their little world. If they happen to make it to their polling place they will scratch their heads, look at the ballot see the names and think “Hmmm, nope can’t vote for a broad. What’s a Green party? I ain’t votin’ for some tree hugger. Hey, there’s the guy with the funny name. I’ve seen that name before, I’ll vote for him.” Average Joe will smile, feel good about himself, go home and pop a cold PBR. Rod gets reelected, but not 4 more years.

  34. - State Wanderers - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 6:27 pm:

    How many state employees/Governor’s office employees/agency directors work only a few days each week in Springfield and then fly back to Chicago in a state plane or drive to their home in a state owned vehicle. If you are hired for one place that is where you should have to work. Why does the Governor continually allow people to cheat the state and not work a full week. He knows very well that many of his appointees’hires do not work a 40 hour week as do the hard working taxpayers of his state. Why does he permit his state workers to campaign during the day and be paid by the state. We are not talking just a few, but many high paying jobs have been created for these individuals so they have flexibility to work the election. Why is it a shock all of sudden that the wife of the Governor’s close friend was hired to work somewhere in the state aand never reported to that location. Jobs are being created daily. Many are placed in one agency and then transferred to another with a large salary increase. Let me know when the state’s “business as usual” changes.

    office staff are returning to their homes

  35. - what a joke - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 6:48 pm:

    i am scared that buck is right. these polls seem crazy to me. what is going on with the general public? why doesn’t anyone care what the elected officials are doing with their tax dollars? i really don’t want to believe it but he’s right. cold beer and television apparently matter more.

  36. - Sarge - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 6:56 pm:

    Some commenters have mentioned indictments. Not to get off track, but I have a question about that possibility (or likelihood?) and the timing of the election. If releasing an indictment too close to the date of an election raises concerns about tampering, does failing to release an otherwise strong indictment simply because of concerns about timing also constitute election tampering? On the one hand, fall indictments may influence the results of an election, but wouldn’t winter or spring indictments that could have been handed down in the fall also influence the results of that same election in the opposite manner?

  37. - state worker #1 - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 7:02 pm:

    Personally, I think the $1500.00 was not the usually gift from the Ascaridis’, otherwise they would have just stated that they give this amount of money to each girl on their respective birthdays.

    However, I would like to hear more about how she didn’t even know where Whiteside County was and if this is the case, where did she report to work prior to the job being transferred to DuPage County? I assume since she ‘worked’ for 30 days prior to going to the office in DuPage, where did she go and what did she do? If she was paid for not going to work (i.e. ghost payrolling), then she needs to be fired IMMEDIATELY along with the supervisor who signed her time card.

  38. - David P. Graf - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 8:41 pm:

    Only $1500 to get a job with the state - that’s a great deal! Plus, she didn’t have to waste any time going through the classifieds or the online job boards. Where can I sign up my jobless friends with the Blagojevich headhunter service?

  39. - reddbyrd - Tuesday, Sep 12, 06 @ 8:52 pm:

    1 story in 5 days doe not get it done…brickhead’s release is mucho lame & proves why he cannot hold high office.
    bye bye judy bore

  40. - NoneOfTheAbove - Wednesday, Sep 13, 06 @ 12:40 am:

    Is Birkett serious? Blago should give Birkett the time of day when Birkett promises to stop letting innocent people stay on death row.

  41. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Sep 13, 06 @ 5:51 am:

    Reddbyrd, please fly away until you can communicate in full, comprehensible sentences.

    None, Nice try. This isn’t about Birkett’s SA record. It’s about the Governor of the State of Illinois for almost a week being 1) unable to document a gift that has very unseemly undertones and 2) being in very close proximity to a series of personnel tranactions that seem to fit the description of “endemic hiring fraud.”

    Changing the subject and attacking the attacker didn’t work for Mr. Clinton when he was caught with his pants down, and it’s doubtful that it will work for Gov. Blagojevich caught with his checkbook open, if you will.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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