* 3:21 pm - The prosecutorial noose tightens around Rezko…
A former top official in Gov. Blagojevich’s administration plans to plead guilty this afternoon to charges tied to a loan-fraud scheme involving Tony Rezko.
Ali Ata, 56, of Lemont, is expected to plead guilty to making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and a tax-related count. Ata is a former executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority. […]
While executive director of the state finance agency, Ata signed a letter bearing the agency’s name to help Rezko fraudulently secure $10 million in loans, prosecutors charged. They said he did so at the request of Rezko to make it appear that an investor had partial state backing for a deal to acquire two groups of Rezko’s Papa John’s pizza restaurants in Chicago and Milwaukee. […]
Ata gave $65,000 to Blagojevich’s gubernatorial fund and thousands more when Blagojevich was in Congress. In January 2004, Blagojevich appointed him to a $127,000-a-year post as executive director of the Illinois Finance Authority. Though Ata left that post about a year later, after a critical audit, he soon was awarded a $55,200-a-year contract to be a consultant for the agency - a three-year deal he declined to sign after the Chicago Sun-Times raised questions about a foreclosure case he did not disclose when the governor hired him.
*** 3:56 pm *** Ata’s guilty plea includes this language…
[Ata admits lying to the FBI when he said] he did not receive anything for his political contributions to the campaign of Public Official A, whereas as defendant then knew such statement and representation was false, namely, that in fact he did receive something for those contributions, specifically employment with a state agency, namely a position as Executive Director with the Illinois Finance Authority with an annual salary of approximately $127,000.
Translation: Ata admits - and the feds insist - that he paid for his job via a campaign contribution to Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
*** 3:59 pm *** Ata is taking us right inside Rezko’s office, where we find Governor Rod Blagojevich…
In or about August 2002, defendant Ata held a small fund-raising event for Public Official A that Public Official A attended. In advance of that fund-raising event, defendant Ata committed to Antoin Rezko that he would raise $25,000 at that event, which he eventually did, personally contributing at least approximately $5,000.
Later that year, Rezko approached the defendant for additional monetary support. Defendant Ata agreed to contribute $25,000 in additional monies to the campaign of Public Official A.
The defendant, subsequently and by prior arrangement with Rezko, brought a check in this amount to Rezko’s Rezmar offices on Elston Avenue in Chicago. After he arrived at the Rezmar offices, the defendant was greeted by Rezko to whom he handed the check in an envelope.
Rezko, carrying the check, ushered the defendant into a conference room where he met with Rezko and Public Official A. Rezko placed the envelope containing the defendant’s $25,000 check to Public Official A’s campaign on the conference room table between himself and Public Official A and stated to Public Official A that the defendant had been a good supporter and a team player and that the defendant would be willing to join Public Official A’s administration. Public Official A expressed his pleasure and acknowledged that the defendant had been a good supporter and good friend. Public Official A, in the defendant’s presence, asked Rezko if he (Rezko) had talked to the defendant about positions in the administration, and Rezko responded that he had.
*** 4:01 pm *** And here we get the quid pro quo…
In or about July 2003, Rezko asked the defendant to make an additional $50,000 contribution to the campaign of Public Official A. The defendant agreed to contribute the same amount as he had previously, namely $25,000. The defendant made this contribution on or about July 25, 2003 by check payable to Public Official A’s campaign. The defendant gave this check to Rezko. Thereafter, the defendant had a conversation with Public Official A at a large fund-raising event at Navy Pier.
During this conversation, Public Official A told defendant that he had been a good supporter, indicated that Public Official A was aware that the defendant had made another substantial donation to Public Official A’s campaign, and told the defendant that Public Official A understood that the defendant would be joining Public Official A’s administration. The defendant responded that he was considering taking a position, and Public Official A stated that it had better be a job where the defendant could make some money.
*** 4:03 pm *** From someone who was at the hearing today…
“As the prosecutor read more and more of the plea, the jaws in the courtroom inched closer and closer to the floor. These aren’t even material to Rezko’s current charges.”
There was a federal criminal investigation into allegations of mail fraud, bribery, political corruption, and other criminal activities in connection with the granting of state jobs and the appointment of officials to agencies and boards and commissions of the State of Illinois. It was material to the investigation to learn what influence, if any, Antoin Rezko had in the making of appointments to positions with the State of Illinois, and whether campaign contributions to political office holders and candidates were required in order to obtain positions with the state.
That pretty much shows us where they’ve been going. And none of it is good for Gov. Blagojevich.
*** 4:32 pm *** The Tribune really needs to change its headline: “Ex-director of Illinois Finance Authority admits getting post after paying Rezko”
Ata did hand the money to Rezko, but the cash went to the governor’s campaign fund, and the governor was aware of the contributions and the appointment.
* For the first time ever, Capitol Fax is an official sponsor of the annual House vs. Senate softball game. It’s my favorite evening of the year, so I’ve thought for a while about signing up as a sponsor. I was informed yesterday that I was accepted.
This year’s game will be Wednesday, May 14 at Springfield’s Lincoln Park. The start time is 5:30pm. See you there.
* Nothing else has worked for the Chicago Republican Party, so maybe this might…
Go over and check out the party’s site in all its glory. [I saw this earlier on another blog, but now I can’t remember where it was. Sorry for no h/t.]
* Buried deep in this critical piece of Democratic congressional candidate Colleen Callahan, was this nugget, written by a member of the Legislative Affairs Committee for the Peoria Area Association of Realtors…
For example, a primary concern of the Realtor industry is that, as independent contractors, we lack the ability to obtain group coverage for health care - a major problem for those with pre-existing conditions. As a result, 60% of Realtors lack health insurance.
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found that local governments and public agencies in Illinois paid $5 million to lobby state government over the course of a year.
The group identified 110 government bodies that hired contract lobbyists. The contracts went to 65 different lobbying firms in a 12-month period ending June 30, 2007. […]
Cynthia Canary, the non-profit group’s director, called the $5 million a significant outlay in public funds but a fraction of the money special interests spend to pass or kill legislation and to influence the actions of the executive branch.
Emphasis added to make a point. It does look like a lot of cash, but it isn’t in the grand scheme of things.
* The more important question is whether these local governments got anything for their outlays, either in the budget, or through special legislation. That wasn’t looked at by ICPR, but the Post-Dispatch did check out one contract between the Madison County Regional Office of Education and former Rep. Steve Davis…
“The state representatives that represent our region are great people,” but can’t realistically be expected to keep up with every issue facing schools in Madison County, said Robert Daiber, who heads the Edwardsville-based Office of Education.
He credits Davis for helping convince lawmakers to maintain hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of state special-education funding that had been slated to end. “That’s well-invested money” in the lobbying contract, Daiber said.
The voluminous research released Monday by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found discrepancies in the required reporting and suggested state lobbying laws be tightened.
* But at least one of those “discrepancies” wasn’t. According to the State Universities Retirement System, they did fully disclose their lobbying contract, contrary to what ICPR reported.
* One of the reforms pushed by ICPR as a result of this study was restricting “revolving door” lobbying - requiring a waiting period of six months to a year before a legislator could begin lobbying. Yet there weren’t really any horrible revelations that I saw in the report which would buttress that demand.
Still, I do commend the hard work by ICPR staff with filing all those FOIA requests with local governments and crunching the numbers. It’s good to have this info about how tax dollars are being spent as reforms are drafted.
* Former state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger has been a designated attack dog against Barack Obama as of late. Here he is quoted in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal…
“Barack was one of the smartest people I ever worked with, but he was more interested in moving up,” says Republican Steven Rauschenberger, who served with Mr. Obama in the state senate. “I never thought he was very engaged in the state senate, because he didn’t think that much of it.”
* Let’s take these one at a time. As Rob accurately notes, Rauschenberger spent the last few years of his own state Senate career trying desperately to get out - with no luck. He ran for US Senate in 2004 and was thumped in the GOP primary by Jack Ryan. He then turned right around and ran for governor, dropped out, and ran for lt. governor and was trounced again in the primary by Joe Birkett. And he won the top job at NCSL after promising insiders that he wouldn’t run for governor, which he did. Pot, kettle, etc.
* When Rauschenberger was in the majority, he did take his responsibilities fairly seriously. He was often quoted in the media on budget issues, for example, and he was a champion of a modernized sales tax, which went nowhere. It’s not difficult to believe that Rauschenberger was more involved than Obama was, but until his final few years, he was more involved than most everyone.
* Rauschenberger was also on Fox News recently and blasted Obama for switching his votes after the voting closed. The LA Times reported several weeks ago that Obama switched his vote six times.
Rauschenberger said of the vote switching: “Generally, it’s people, in my opinion, who are politically ambitious.”
Last week, I was flitting back and forth between the House and Senate and heard at least six instances in one day where members asked that their votes be switched. This is an extremely common occurence.
Rauschenberger pointed to a riverboat vote where Obama was getting pressure from both sides and Obama voted “Yes” but said he hit the wrong button and should be voted a “No.” Rauschenberger claimed: “It’s very difficult in those charged votes to believe that someone pushed the wrong color button.”
But I’ve seen this a kabillion times, too, and so has Rauschenberger. People are sometimes away from their desks and staff hit the wrong button, or they just goof. Six times in eight years ain’t much. Let’s say Rauschenberger is right on that one boat bill. That’s once in eight years. Not exactly a pattern.
* Rauschenberger also claimed that Obama “wasn’t a reformer” on Jeff Berkowitz’s show, mainly because he endorsed John Stroger over Forrest Claypool for county board president primary race and that nobody has been convicted of crimes due to the Obama/Dillard ethics bill.
Obama didn’t endorse John Stroger over Claypool. Instead, he was neutral and announced the day before the election that he was voting for Claypool. And I doubt that Rauschenberger’s fellow Republican Sen. Dillard thinks that ethics bill was worthless.
* If you have the time, watch the Berkowitz interview. Rauschenberger claims he doesn’t know where Obama is on issue after issue, but the conservative Berkowitz points out where he’s wrong time and time again. It looks to me like sour grapes on Rauschenberger’s part.
Again, Rauschenberger makes a few very good points, but overall his message seems, well, “bitter.”
A state program that helps educate Illinois’ poor is one of many state programs on the chopping block, as Gov. Rod Blagojevich considers withholding promised dollars to fill a $750 million hole in the Illinois budget.
More than 1 million of Illinois’ food stamp-eligible residents take advantage of University of Illinois Extension’s Food Stamp Nutritional Education Program. […]
“There isn’t anyone else in the state that does what we do,” said program Director Robin Orr, who leads the University of Illinois Extension program that serves 535,000 people in 97 of Illinois’ 102 counties. “In a budget that’s already passed, I have no idea why you don’t release money.”
So, let’s see, offering health insurance to people knowing that many doctors won’t accept it because the state is so slow in paying (and pays so poorly) is priority number one, even though he can’t get his program through either chamber of the General Assembly. But funding an existing program that helps more than a million people learn better nutrition, and, therefore, live healthier lives to begin with, is just too expensive to keep around.
* Meanwhile, Fritchey has some choice words for the governor’s latest attack…
Suffice it to say that it doesn’t bode well for a productive, let alone timely, session if the Governor is already in demonizing mode, which he apparently is.
At 2pm today, Judge James Epstein is set to hear a motion requesting compliance with the Preliminary Injunction against Governor Blagojevich issued last week.
The Healthcare and Family Services Defendants have yet to take the
necessary steps to comply with the injunction previously issued. Judge Epstein will consider a contempt action to compel compliance with his previous order.
Union officials say they aren’t convinced the switch would save money, and they worry that inmates with families in the Chicago area wouldn’t get visits because of the longer distance between Joliet and Thomson, which is located about 150 miles west of Chicago.
History suggests an uphill battle. Wealthy candidates often fare poorly in the electoral field, despite occasional exceptions like New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine or Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), both of whom pumped millions into their campaigns. In 2006, 28 congressional candidates spent $1 million or more of their own money on their campaigns. Just four are in Congress today.
Last December, the federal government passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The centerpiece of this historic legislation was an unprecedented forty percent increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade association of ten car and light truck manufacturers, was instrumental in passing this groundbreaking energy bill.
The legislation is a comprehensive and aggressive federal response to the climate change issue. Lawmakers and the environmental community alike have hailed the legislation as “landmark” as it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new automobiles 30 percent by 2020 and save 18 billion gallons of gasoline per year.
Rather than follow the federal standard some in IL are seeking to adopt California’s standards and create a confusing and inefficient program at the state level. That is why the Alliance, as well as many partners in the agriculture, manufacturing, and labor communities, oppose House Bill 3424. CA LEV not only binds Illinois to excessive state-wide fuel economy standards, but it contradicts the state’s commitment to E85 fuel and technology and relinquishes Illinois’ air quality authority to California.
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* Statehouse lobbyist Bill Anderson passed away Saturday. Bill had one of the strongest wills to live that I’ve ever seen. His doctors told him he was a goner long ago, but he survived and continued living a full life right up to the end.
A friend passed this along about the services. I’ll update when I get more info…
The service will be at the Cathedral of St. Paul, 815 S. 2nd St, Springfield at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. The family is asking contributions go to the SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute at the SIU School of Medicine.
Simmons Cooper Cancer Institute
Chemo Infusion Area
PO Box 19666
Springfield, IL 62794-9666
Here’s his lobbyist registration photo, which isn’t very good but it’s the only one I have…
* Also, if you’re looking for service information for Richard Piccioli, click here.
* The SJ-R does a pretty nice job of summing up Rep. Mary Flowers’ bill to establish a single-payer healthcare system in Illinois over ten years…
Adoption of a Canadian-style “single-payer” health-insurance system in Illinois is viewed as a long shot by key legislators, but the Health Care Availability and Access Committee voted 8-4 to send House Bill 311 on to the full House. The bill also would need Senate approval and the governor’s signature to become law.
The sponsor, Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, told the panel on Tuesday that the bill would “put the control of the health-care system back in the hands of the health-care deliverers rather than health-insurance companies.”
Democrats on the panel supported the bill, but Republicans said the plan is too radical, lacks specifics and would give more authority to a state government that already has mishandled the Medicaid program.
* The huge tax hike required to implement the program probably dooms the proposal. Buried way at the bottom, though, is this little nugget which, if it stays in the bill, pretty much guarantees a rough road in the House…
Investor ownership of hospitals, nursing homes and other “health delivery facilities” would be illegal. Those facilities could be converted to non-profit status, and investor owners would be “compensated for the loss of their facilities.
* My syndicated newspaper column isn’t posted yet over at the SouthtownStar, probably because I was sick on Friday and didn’t get it finished until early Saturday morning. Oops.
But, since I also just happen to have a copy we can look at it anyway…
A poll taken earlier this year for the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs and released last week shows overwhelming public support for legislative term limits and recall of elected state officials.
The poll of about 1,000 Illinois residents taken in January found that 70 percent support both term limits and recall. The numbers are close to a Glengariff Group poll taken late last year which showed 65 percent favored recall. Glengariff did not ask about term limits.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s astounding unpopularity was measured by a different poll released this month. According to the highly respected Ipsos firm, the governor has a 13 percent job approval rating, with 54 percent disapproving and 33 percent reporting mixed feelings.
* There was another aspect to that Institute poll…
Every twenty years, Illinoisans vote on whether to call a constitutional convention and add, subtract or rewrite our state’s founding document. Another vote is scheduled for this November and the Institute’s poll found just 18 percent of respondents were opposed (8 percent strongly opposed) to the coming convention proposal, while 39 percent supported it. The rest were undecided.
The last time voters had a chance to decide whether to hold a constitutional convention, in 1988, both political parties, plus just about all business groups and labor unions teamed up to defeat it. Only 19 percent voted in favor of a “con-con,” while 58 percent opposed it and about 23 percent skipped over the question.
According to the latest poll, the weakest support for a con-con came from Republican voters and independents. About 30 percent of self-identified Republicans, “strong” Republicans and independents favored the idea, while over 40 percent of all Democrats backed the plan. Republican attitudes may change because some prominent GOP figures are said to be preparing to come out in strong support of the convention vote.
There are a whole lot of undecideds in this issue. According to the poll, 43 percent of all respondents said they didn’t know how they’d vote on the con-con. A convention has to be approved by either three-fifths of those voting on the question or a simple majority of all who cast ballots in the election, so both sides have their work cut out for them.
* Con-Con arguments, both pro and, um, con, were tested…
Some arguments against holding the convention tested pretty well with the poll’s respondents, with 60 percent or more saying the “anti” arguments that special interests and incumbent politicians would control the con-con are good reasons to vote against calling a convention.
Some arguments in favor of the con-con seemed to work well with the respondents as well. Arguments that scored in the mid to high 50s included, “State government is not working well at present, and only fundamental constitutional change can fix it,” and “There are a few major reforms that would improve government in the state but that cannot be passed except by having a convention,” and “Conventions are the only way to give ordinary people a say in how Illinois state government is run.”
* And the big finish…
Besides your vote for president, the con-con could be the most important issue you face this November. Take a good, long look, and try not to be swayed by fear. We’ll talk more about this as November approaches.
* Not long ago, some IL politicians were saying, “If we don’t pass a capital bill right now, all the federal money will go away.” That breathless warning was bunk, but the propaganda keeps on coming.
* For instance, the governor had this to say last week…
“If (the General Assembly) can get a capital bill done sooner rather than later, then the shovels will be in the ground before the Fourth of July,” Blagojevich told the Lee Springfield Bureau. “But it’s up to the legislature to do this and do it quickly.”
Blagojevich’s own transportation department says some new construction could get under way in the latter part of the summer construction season, but that would require on-going planning and preparations from this point forward.
“It is possible that some projects could be started in late summer or fall, but it depends on issues like how much engineering has previously been done on specific projects and how much right of way needs to be acquired,” Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey said. “A more significant number would begin in 2009 and I believe the funding would be spent over three to four years.”
Recently, several of us Illinois mayors were in Sen. Dick Durbin’s office, and he shared with us that there is federal money in Washington — up to $10 billion — to be used as matching funds if Illinois passes a capital bill. However, there’s a time limit to how long those funds will be available, so that’s why we need to get moving on this.
Durbin told the mayors that whopper despite informing the Pantagraph earlier this month that the claim was false…
But that federal money and those matching grants will not disappear or be doled out to other states unless Congress takes drastic measures to do so. Illinois’ congressional delegation says that will not happen.
“That money will be available, it will just be worth less,” Durbin said, adding that last year, hundreds of millions of dollars were left behind when Illinois was unable to move on a construction plan.
* There’s no doubt that Illinois is in great need of a capital bill. Not only is our infrastructure crumbling, but the jobs would be a welcomed cushion against continued economic decline.
But do the proponents have to rely on so many untruths to get it passed?
* Side note to whomever is publishing the pro capital bill Illinois Works Coalition website: Reprinting newspaper stories in their entirety is a violation of federal copyright laws.
Tuesday’s ruling has to worry corrupt Illinois pols and their pals. No more hiding now in make-believe defenses, no more hoping the courts—judges are political creatures, right?—will leave definitions vague.
State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said he introduced Senate Bill 2682 – which would allow school boards to award high school diplomas to honorably discharged Vietnam veterans – after hearing about Raymond Collins’ struggle to get his.
Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Veterans’ Affairs Department for the last 1? years, said she hears similar stories “over and over again.” The nation is becoming “overwhelmed,” she said, by the length of the war and the number of veterans who have come home needing jobs.