Sunday, August 2, 2015

AG Lisa Madigan: Keeping a Blind Eye to Political Corruption?

AG Lisa Madigan: A Blind Eye to Political Corruption in Illinois?
You’ve probably already read or heard about the plea from the FBI for all citizens to assist in the identification of those involved in political corruption in the State of Kentucky.

Federal crime-fighters started an outreach campaign Friday to recruit Kentuckians to help uncover government corruption and end the state's "fairly sordid" history of scandals that rob trust in government, law enforcement officials said.
“The FBI's "End Corruption Now" campaign includes an anonymous, toll-free tip line and an email address to allow people to report suspicions of wrongdoing by public officials. A billboard campaign in several communities will publicize the effort.”  Youcan read more here:
Although most if not all states are certainly not immune to corruption on the state level, Kentucky for years has held a notorious pedigree in this arena.   The amount of illegalities in the judicial, executive, and legislative branches push the Bluegrass State to the lead in a recent study by the Harvard University’s Center for Ethics, which finds that Kentucky ‘s state government is one of the two most corrupt state legislatures in the nation. 
No, the second is not Illinois. 
 The second state is New Jersey, but Illinois follows quickly in the dishonorable runner-up category, along with nearly ten other states.  In Illinois, the Harvard analysis characterizes political corruption at the state level as “Very Common.”  The study describes political corruption as beginning with favors exchanged for contributions and other back-door deals. 

“Whereas the most common measure of corruption uses only federal convictions, the Harvard study measures corruption based on the perceptions of experts, surveying hundreds of news and investigative reporters covering state politics. The reporters ranked the existence of both illegal and legal corruption in the executive, legislative and judicial branches on a scale of 1 to 5, from not common at all to extremely common.”

In other words, like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest when there’s no one around, the decibel levels of any corruption could be unfortunately muffled by a lack of legal identification, a dearth of whistleblowers, or even an unwillingness to prosecute.

And that brings us back to Illinois, and a recent Forbes article by Adam Andrzejewski, the Chairman of American Transparency and founder of the transparency website   

His careful appraisal of Lisa Madigan’s lack of industry in her Attorney General’s Office reveals no blatant willingness to do just whatever she is told, but quite the opposite: an unwillingness to perhaps do her job. 

From Mr. Andrezejewski’s piece: “Lisa Madigan – daughter of powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – first ran for attorney general in 2002 vowing, “It’s time that Illinois’ highest legal official takes an active, hands-on role in cleaning up government. And I will not let them down.”
“Madigan said she’d even prosecute her father if he were corrupt. It was tough language and a high promise.

“Our organization, American Transparency ( fact checked her campaign promise. After ten years in office, Lisa Madigan had prosecuted only fourteen public officials for corruption: half were for DUI, reckless driving, or substance possession and she lost close to half of those cases. That’s an appalling record in a state with 7,000 units of government.
“Madigan switched positions on public crime busting in 2014 saying her office lacked statutory power. The Chicago Tribune editorial board refused to endorse her for re-election recognizing the depth of statewide corruption and her reluctance to rein it in.
“Illinois has a little-known provision of the law called a Quo Warranto application. Once public malfeasance by an officeholder or unit of government is documented by a citizen, Illinois law mandates that citizens first request help from the attorney general. The attorney general reviews the application and then decides whether or not to enforce state law. By denying the application, the AG essentially forces the citizen to file a private lawsuit on their own dime or drop the matter altogether.
“Over the past two years, nineteen Quo Warranto applications were filed with Attorney General Lisa Madigan. In all nineteen cases, Madigan denied the application. You can read a summary of these cases compiled by the noted downstate good government group, Edgar County Watchdogs.
“Madigan’s refusal to prosecute public corruption and enforce basic laws makes a mockery of the concept of public service. Forcing citizens to prosecute the malfeasance themselves is an unnecessary, undue burden. In the City of Marshall, Warren Le Fever had to spend $4,426 of his own money to file his own lawsuit to stop the “out-of-towner” from serving and voting on his city council.
“Madigan’s reluctance to use public funds to prosecute public corruption imposes a de facto “corruption tax” on every Illinois citizen. In other words, if ordinary citizens want to fight corruption, that fight has to be financed from their personal funds. Madigan imposes this tax in other ways as well.
“Consider Madigan’s role in the massive scandal continuing to unfold after our investigation of the College of DuPage (COD). President Dr. Robert Breuder was forced to go on leave after allegedly mismanaging college funds yet he claimed a “contract” (i.e. a golden parachute) through 2019. But that claim was dependent on ‘extensions’ conferred without public board votes.
“But in fact, our organization, American Transparency, found hard evidence that all board action since 2009 on Breuder’s contracts, addendums and extensions violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). Because Quo Warranto applications are personally filed, I asked AG Madigan for help in December 2014. I argued that the contract was invalid because it was never lawfully conferred by the board.
“This was a perfect chance for the attorney general to clarify the law and stop millions of dollars in compensation to one public official at a junior college – a college serving working class and middle class students.

"Madigan, however, denied the Quo Warranto request. With this denial, the College of DuPage (COD) Board of Trustees then voted in January 2015 to give Dr. Breuder a $763,000 ‘voluntary’ retirement severance package. If Madigan would have enforced the law this golden parachute would have never been stitched together.
“Inexplicably, although the attorney general refused to get involved, she now agrees with our findings. On July 24, 2015, the AG suddenly ruled on a pending ‘request for review’ regarding the 2011 board ‘approval’ of the Breuder contract extension – after four years of stonewalling.
“She opined that the COD Board violated the Open Meetings Act.
“This is a welcome move but Madigan has a long way to go in the fight against public corruption and the lifting of her “corruption tax” that forces Illinois taxpayers to pester, badger and coerce her into doing her job.”

And let’s remember the Attorney General rendered her sudden change of heart after nearly seven months of public complaints, which escalated from watchdog groups to irked Illinois legislators and continued damning press releases.

Down the stretch, maybe we can pass New Jersey. 

You can read Mr. Andrezejewski’s entire article here.

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