Illinois governor's donors, friends get state appointments

Monday, November 22, 2004

CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich has made 700 appointments to state boards in the past two years, and many of those appointees can be tied to about $1.9 million in contributions, according to a published report.

Blagojevich insisted there is no connection between the appointees' donations and the appointment process. He also said the fact that the majority of appointees did not donate to his campaign proves there is no connection.

"We don't look at who contributes money," he told the Chicago Tribune, which conducted the analysis of public records.

The governor has made about 700 appointments to state boards, commissions and agencies since taking the post in January 2003. The Tribune's analysis, published in Sunday's editions, found that some of those appointees, their companies, groups they are affiliated with or their relatives have contributed $1.9 million to Blagojevich.

The newspaper found that about 120 political appointees were connected to campaign donations.

At least 25 of those appointees, their companies or organizations were linked to contributions of $25,000 or more to the Blagojevich campaign.

Blagojevich spokesman Pete Giangreco said that the people who are qualified to serve in the appointed positions have to be active in government and their communities.

"So it should be no surprise that they are active politically," he said.

Since Blagojevich held himself up during the campaign as a reformer, he has to work hard to eliminate even an appearance of conflict of interest, said Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

"If you're going to go out and say this is the new order and we're squeaky clean and no more business as usual, that requires some sacrifice," Redfield said.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said Saturday that the governor has helped clean up state government.

"Any review of the last two years shows that the system in Springfield has undergone dramatic changes and reform," she said. "We're getting rid of waste and saving taxpayer money and streamlining government."

Blagojevich has successfully championed ethics reforms, including a law that banned lobbyists from serving on boards and commissions.

Most of Blagojevich's appointments pay little more than the expenses, but many are attractive because of their political standing.

Some of the appointments have not been without controversy. For example, his initial appointments to the Health Facilities Planning Board came under increasing scrutiny amid a federal investigation into whether Chicago businessmen used their ties to the board to secure business from a Naperville hospital. The board was reconfigured in September.

One of the former board members, Danalynn Rice, contributed $1,000 to Blagojevich and was supported by a union official who was instrumental in Blagojevich's election.

Edward M. Smith, vice president of the Laborers International Union of North America, said he submitted Rice's name to the governor's office for the health board. The political arm of Smith's union contributed $133,500 to the Blagojevich campaign. Smith was also appointed to the State Board of Investment, which oversees some of the state's retirement funds.

Both Smith and Rice said contributions did not play a role in their appointments.

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