Just three weeks after appointing Chicago attorney Jack Carriglio to a powerful state board that oversees billions of dollars in assets, Gov. Rod Blagojevich received a $25,000 campaign contribution from Carriglio's law firm.
Carriglio, who declined to comment, is one of scores of appointments that Blagojevich has made in a time-honored practice that has been called Patronage Lite.Like presidents giving ambassadorships and honorary posts to political allies, Illinois governors have long appointed friends and contributors to state positions.
Yet an examination of Blagojevich's appointments provides the latest example of how a governor who vowed to end business as usual in state government has appeared to perpetuate it in at least some respects.
Blagojevich has made about 700 appointments to state boards, commissions and agencies since becoming governor in January 2003. A Tribune analysis of public records found that many of those appointees, their companies, groups they are affiliated with or their relatives have contributed almost $1.9 million to the governor.
Dozens of Blagojevich appointees also gave more than $246,000 to the campaign fund of Blagojevich's father-in-law, Chicago Ald. Richard Mell (33rd). At least 25 of those appointees, their companies or organizations can be linked to gifts of $25,000 or more to the Blagojevich campaign, records showed.
In addition to Carriglio, who was appointed to the Teachers Retirement System board in May, the figures included two previously disclosed instances in which doctors selected by Blagojevich to serve on the scandal-plagued Health Facilities Planning Board each contributed $25,000 to the governor's campaign within three weeks of their appointments.
Political scientist Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield said Blagojevich has an obligation to "bend over backwards" to eliminate even an appearance of a conflict of interest because he held himself up during the campaign as a fervently committed reformer.
"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," said Redfield, the interim director of the university's Institute of Legislative Studies.
Blagojevich insisted there is no correlation between about 120 political appointees connected to campaign donations and the governor's appointment process.
"We don't look at who contributes money," he said in an interview earlier this year.
Blagojevich said the fact that the vast majority of appointees did not donate to his campaign proves there is no connection.
"That means well over 500, by your numbers, haven't [donated]," Blagojevich said. "I'm delighted to hear that, quite frankly. It's more than I thought."
And the governor said he is sure his campaign staff also does not solicit donations from potential appointees, saying such a practice "would be extremely inappropriate."
$36.4 million raised in 4 years
A prolific fundraiser unmatched in Illinois history, Blagojevich has generated $36.4 million in only four years. It took his predecessor, former Republican Gov. George Ryan, 30 years in state government to raise $40 million.
Blagojevich has successfully championed ethics reforms, including a law that banned lobbyists from serving on boards and commissions.
But he has come under criticism for being slow to make some appointments, such as to a highly touted ethics commission and a specially designated group charged with reviewing recent changes in the death penalty.
As a campaigner intent on changing the anything-goes atmosphere in Springfield, Blagojevich railed against Ryan for rewarding insiders and political pals. But Blagojevich has not refrained from awarding appointments and contracts to his benefactors, either.
His administration, for example, gave a $214,000 contract to manage the state's fleet of vehicles to Maximus Inc. of Reston, Va. The company contributed $20,000 to Blagojevich and has paid former Republican Gov. Jim Thompson, a member of Blagojevich's transition team, to sit on its board.
The firm and family of Jay Wilton, the managing partner of a California firm rebuilding Illinois tollway oases and planning to manage them for 25 years, donated to Blagojevich more than $84,000 in cash, transportation and meals.
The administration awarded a $240,000 contract for a Web-based ethics-training program to California-based LRN, the Legal Knowledge Co., which has a board member who is a contributor to Blagojevich and other Democrats.
The governor's office also picked Team Services LLC of Bethesda, Md., to administer a state initiative designed to use corporate sponsorships to underwrite government costs. One of Team Services' principals gave Blagojevich a $4,000 donation and once had a business relationship with Lon Monk, the governor's chief of staff.
Blagojevich has always portrayed himself as a family man, but that image apparently extends to his political family.
A sister of Chris Kelly, Blagojevich's chief fundraiser, has a $91,992-a-year state job with an agency overseeing real estate professions. A sister of one of the governor's chief legislative allies, Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago), has a nearly $40,000-per-year part-time position on the Illinois Human Rights Commission. The governor also appointed to the Illinois Arts Council both his mother-in-law and the wife of his deputy governor.
State records show Blagojevich appeared to receive contributions from appointees at a clip faster than either Ryan or former Gov. Jim Edgar.
Though most appointments Blagojevich has made since he took office in January 2003 pay little more than expenses, many are desirable for political cachet. The governor's initial appointments to the Health Facilities Planning Board--which was reconfigured in September--came under increasing scrutiny amid a federal investigation and allegations that former board member Stuart Levine tried to steer lucrative hospital construction business to a friend's company.
Levine, a longtime Republican donor, paid more than $4,000 in transportation costs last year to ferry campaign staff and supporters on separate Blagojevich fundraising trips in October and December.
Kankakee neurologist Michel Malek and Winnetka podiatrist Fortunee Massuda, who has been in a real estate venture with top Blagojevich adviser Antoin Rezko, are each tied to $25,000 donations less than three weeks before Blagojevich appointed them.
Another board member, Danalynn Rice, contributed $1,000 to Blagojevich and received a boost from a prominent Downstate union official instrumental in Blagojevich's election.
Edward M. Smith, vice president and Midwest manager of the Laborers International Union of North America, said he submitted Rice's name to the governor's office for a health board vacancy.
The political arm of Smith's union contributed about $133,500 to the Blagojevich campaign. Blagojevich also appointed Smith 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.
Many of Blagojevich's selections are to unheralded boards.
They include attorney Leo A. Smith, a longtime Blagojevich supporter who donated $109,831 in cash and services to the governor's campaign and ended up on a panel studying early childhood development.
"It's really based not just on his support for early childhood education," Smith said of his donation, "but I think he's done a tremendous job in tough financial times."
Likewise, Blagojevich appointee Kevin Freeman, a partner at the Chicago law firm of Gardner Carton and Douglas, said he was shocked to learn his firm had donated more than $52,000 in cash and services to the governor's campaign. "I knew our firm supported the governor, but I didn't know to that extent," said Freeman, who was appointed to the Property Tax Appeals Board, a panel many businesses go to when protesting assessment hikes. Freeman is the son of Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman.
Another partner in Freeman's law firm, Jesse Ruiz, was named by Blagojevich as chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Ali Ata, appointed to a $127,000-a-year job running the new Illinois Finance Authority, said he has been a longtime supporter of the governor.
Ata, retired from a marketing job with Nalco Chemical Co. in Naperville, said he previously served as a volunteer for Blagojevich's father-in-law.
"My relationship with the governor goes back many years," Ata said. "My contribution in supporting him had absolutely nothing to do with whether I get appointed or not."
Ata has donated $63,000 to Blagojevich campaigns.
Pete Giangreco, a spokesman for the governor's political operations, said the fact that most of Blagojevich's appointees were not contributors is proof of a disconnect. "The people who are qualified to serve in these appointments are by definition people who are active in government and active in their communities," Giangreco said. "So it should be no surprise that they are active politically."
But Sen. Susan Garrett said the amount of contributions made by this governor's appointees and associates "suggests to me that the system has gone amok." Connections should be specifically stated when nominations are made, she said.
Garrett said she will introduce legislation to broaden current disclosure so the public knows of an appointee's personal political contributions, those made by relatives or any affiliated businesses or groups to increase scrutiny during the vetting process.
"What it does," Garrett said, "is take it one step further to ensuring these boards and commissions cannot be bought."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun