Gov. Blagojevich first sought office on a promise to end business as usual. And he does seem to have developed some new practices. In the past, state contracts were, on occasion, granted to companies known to support the patron's campaign fund. Now, today's press reports suggest, contractors are showing support for their patron in new ways.
United Services of Chicago apparently paid for busses to send people to the State Fair on Democrats' Day, some of whom wore Blagojevich t-shirts and who boo'd Blagojevich's chief rival in Springfield, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Some even told reporters that they were working for the Blagojevich campaign.
United Services has many financial ties to the Governor. Contracts with the group grew from $1M in FY04 to $1.9M in FY07, and the group appears to be in line for $2.3M in state money in FY08. Press coverage has focused on a $775K DCEO contract on FY07, but the bulk of state funding appears to be through IDHS and IDOT.
Press reports suggest that Eddie Read, head of United Services, ran a PAC that gave money to Blagojevich's campaign fund. That would, of course, be the old way of doing business. The new way, apparently, is to have supporters who will pay for busses to deliver protestors to hound your opponents.
The contracts, the campaign contributions and the busloads of support raise too many questions and - once again - make Illinoisans question the fairness and honesty of their state government. A partial solution would be to enact legislation prohibiting state contractors from contributing to the officeholder who awards the contract. HB 1 and other "pay-to-play" legislation is pending in the Illinois Senate. Now that their day of State Fair play is over, legislators should get serious and pass legislation to limit opportunities to pay-to-play.