Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has plowed through about $1 million in taxpayer dollars in the last two years for an office and staff in west suburban Yorkville, thanks to a little-known perk given to ex-speakers.
Hastert, 68, a lobbyist and business consultant who retired from Congress in 2007, has hired three of his former staffers at salaries of more than $100,000 apiece to run the publicly financed office.
Federal law allows former House speakers to maintain a taxpayer-funded office anywhere in the United States for up to five years. The purpose is to "facilitate the administration, settlement and conclusion of matters pertaining to or arising out of" a former speaker's tenure in the House.
Hastert is not allowed to use the office for his moneymaking ventures, including lobbying for the countries of Turkey and Luxembourg, sitting on the board of Chicago-based financial giant CME Group Inc. and giving speeches with an asking price of $25,000.
Hastert declined to be interviewed for this story, but spokesman Brad Hahn said the Republican ex-speaker keeps his business ventures separate from the operation of his Yorkville office. And in fact, Hastert could have spent considerably more under the law if he had wanted.
The office's spacious rooms — part workplace, part museum — are in a modern, two-story brick building next to the Kendall County Courthouse. Other tenants advertise on exterior signs, but not Hastert.
The glass front door to the suite has a sign reading, "Office of Former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert." Inside is a handsome leather couch, framed photos of Hastert and then- President George W. Bush, autographed speaker's gavels and other memorabilia. A bust of Abraham Lincoln occupies Hastert's personal office, plus a Bible and a map of his old congressional district.
Staffers now are sorting through documents and mementos from Hastert's House career; handling requests for speeches he gives at no charge; and working with the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy at Wheaton College, Hastert's alma mater, Hahn said.
According to Hahn, the office also works with Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, which has held classes at the Yorkville office, said Jeff Noblitt, college spokesman.
Hahn said the taxpayer-funded office also has assisted Hastert's work with nonprofit groups, including the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee and Advance Illinois, an education reform group.
One legal observer cautioned that the tax dollars should be used strictly for administering and concluding matters relating to a former speaker's congressional service.
"When taxpayers give a million dollars, they intend specifically for the former speaker to wind down and finish his old job, and not for him to have a second career," said Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Tiefer, a Democrat, is the former deputy general counsel of the House.
Hastert represented Illinois in the House of Representatives for almost 21 years and was speaker for eight years. When Democrats regained the majority after the 2006 elections, Hastert lost the top spot. He had not been speaker for almost 11 months when he resigned from the House in November 2007.
The Tribune examined the Yorkville office's spending — which Hahn said Hastert reviews and approves — from Dec. 1, 2007, until Dec. 31, 2009. The figures from the last three months, which have not yet been released by the House of Representatives, were provided by Hastert's office at the newspaper's request.
The bottom line is $997,076 and counting. The figure does not include salaries and other expenses for the last month and a half, so the grand total has likely exceeded $1 million.
Most of the money went to pay Hastert's employees, all of whom worked for him while he held office. Bryan Harbin, an administrative assistant, now is paid $138,551 a year. Secretary Thomas Jarman earns $116,365, and secretary Lisa Post $101,000.
The office pays other talent too. Some $38,000 went for services from Burnham Strategies Group, a campaign and communications firm in Geneva. It was begun by Hahn, Hastert's former press secretary, and David From, his former campaign manager.
The rent for the office, at 759 John St., goes to Norske L.L.C., a limited liability company with four members, according to public records. Three of the members are grown sons of lawyer-lobbyist Dallas Ingemunson, the former GOP Kendall County chairman who mentored Hastert and has done business with him. The sons are Gregg, Boyd and Kirk Ingemunson.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s perk costs taxpayers $1 million
Hastert’s aides and allies benefit from archive fund
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