Updated: April 14, 2014 6:54AM
“There was no money allocated at all before the election of 2010,” Gov. Pat Quinn told Chicago TV reporter Charles Thomas about allegations that the governor had spent millions in state anti-violence grants to boost his flagging election campaign that year.
Quinn used his TV appearance to defend himself against growing criticism about a devastating state audit of the anti-violence grants. But what the governor said in his defense is not true.
Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland found that Quinn’s administration signed contracts with 23 groups on Oct. 15, about three weeks before Election Day 2010. Each of the groups, hand-picked by Chicago aldermen, was promised about $300,000 for a total of nearly $7 million.
“That is allocating money,” Holland emphatically said last week.
A Quinn spokesman countered that the governor actually meant to say that no money was distributed to the groups prior to Election Day. But the groups’ leaders, many with political ties, had signed state contracts in their hands. They knew that big-time state money was on the way soon.
As you probably know, Holland’s audit uncovered massive problems with the grants, finding “pervasive deficiencies” in the “planning, implementation and management” of the grants doled out via the Governor’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. The program was “hastily implemented,” expenses were not adequately monitored and a third of the “most violent Chicago communities” weren’t included in the program, according to the audit report.
Quinn met with a group of ministers in Chicago’s Roseland community in August 2010. Black ministers long have held strong political influence in Chicago’s black culture, so Quinn was undoubtedly eager to placate them ahead of Election Day.
Five days after the meeting, the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority was informed by the governor’s office that Quinn wanted to establish a $20 million crime reduction program.
Less than two months after the initial meeting, Quinn upped the grant program to $50 million for Chicago communities alone. Chicago aldermen were asked to submit lists of groups that would receive the money, and that list alone was used to dispense the funds.
The audit’s language is without a doubt the harshest since Rod Blagojevich was governor. Some Republicans have asked Holland to forward his findings to the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.
One of the items pointed to by Republicans is a passage from the record of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority’s Sept. 30, 2010, board meeting, when a representative of the governor’s office told the authority’s board that “the Governor’s Office is committed to allocating some of the funds for this Initiative immediately and will allocate the rest after the election.”
That quote, the Republicans say, is proof that the election was a major motive behind the program. Quinn was, some say, trying to “buy” the 2010 election. But that’s not really my read.
Back when Jim Edgar was secretary of state, he oversaw a literacy grant program. Not coincidentally, lots of black churches with schools received grants from Edgar. The plan was simple and well thought out — use state money to carefully buy influence with an important constituency.
But the creation of Quinn’s anti-violence initiative was completely reactive. Quinn was under enormous pressure from leaders of crime-plagued neighborhoods to act fast to try to deter street violence.
The idea here appeared to be to throw something, anything, together as quickly as possible to get angry ministers and community leaders off his back. Allowing Chicago aldermen to pick the local agencies further ensured that the squeakiest wheels would be greased.
What Quinn purchased wasn’t votes, it was peace with a powerful and important constituency. It got him out of the headlines. He was no longer part of the problem.
There are those who say politics and governing must be completely separated, but that just can’t happen in a democratic republic.
How many of the legislators carelessly talking to the press about trying to impeach Quinn over this controversy have introduced bills or voted for or against legislation to benefit a powerful local constituency? All of them.
There’s no doubt, however, that this grant program went far beyond normally accepted practices. But the really serious legal problems will likely be found in the middle and the bottom — perhaps some of the aldermen who recommended the agencies and any of the connected folks who got the grants.
Rich Miller also publishes
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