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Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006 01:45 pm

Wired

Keno proposal draws lobbyists with connections to the governor

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that John Wyma is lobbying for GTECH. The Illinois Lottery contractor will most likely operate the state’s proposed keno network. Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to put electronic keno gambling games in 2,000 taverns and restaurants to help fund a construction plan for schools. Wyma was the governor’s chief of staff when Blagojevich was a congressman, and he was the political director for the governor’s 2002 campaign. He is just the sort of guy whom companies like GTECH hire when they want to get something done in the state. Actually, it’s not just the state: The same thing goes for Chicago and most other municipalities in Illinois. And it’s not just Illinois: How many companies hired disgraced Washington, D.C., superlobbyist Jack Abramoff because they believed that he could grease the skids with the national Republican establishment? Before GTECH hired Wyma, they used Wilhelm & Conlon, which was once headed by David Wilhelm, Blagojevich’s campaign media strategist. Before Blagojevich was elected, GTECH used Republican megainsider Bob Kjellander as its mouthpiece in Springfield. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, IGOR The Watchdog Group is GTECH’s lone subcontractor in Illinois, meaning that it could very well make a bunch of cash if keno is approved. IGOR, a large contributor to the governor’s campaign fund, is represented in Springfield by Wyma. It has also been represented by Republican lobbyist and Springfield businessman Tony Leone, according to the secretary of state’s office. Another firm, the Sun-Times also reported, may compete against GTECH for the keno contract. That company, Scientific Games, is represented by Milan Petrovic, a Blagojevich campaign fundraiser and Springfield lobbyist. Scientific Games has also been represented by Leone in the past, according to the lobbying list. Just to give those of you an idea of how things work, Petrovic’s firm has done work with PAR Solutions, which has lobbied for Scofield Communications, which is a company owned by the governor’s campaign spokesman, Doug Scofield. PAR is run by Paul Rosenfeld, who has been a Blagojevich friend forever. Many corporations routinely seek out the most politically connected lobbyists they can afford, believing that it gives them an advantage in the game. Does this mean that the system is completely wired? Not necessarily. If you look at any major contract-bidding process or legislative battle, you’ll see connected lobbyists working every angle. It’s both an insurance policy and a standard business decision (as with most things, if the other side has something, then companies think they’d better have one as well). The problem for Blagojevich is that he pledged to end “business as usual” in Springfield but obviously hasn’t. In fact, he probably can’t. Unless he bans lobbying by everyone connected to him, there’s no way he can prevent this sort of story. He won’t ban lobbying by his friends and supporters because lobbying is the ultimate form of patronage for the highly connected. Midlevel employees of legislative leaders and the governor often move on to bigger and better things, usually with the blessing and even help of their former employers — but the top people almost always end up making fabulous amounts of money in the lobbying game, which frees them up in the off-season to help out on campaigns. And those superlobbyists are usually good hires. Beyond the “goodwill” that they may engender with the powers that be, they know how things are done, and they know the people who can get them done. Lots of people tried to warn Blagojevich that he was setting the ethics bar way too high when he first came into office, and now routine matters such who is lobbying for what have become front-page stories. Those pay-to-play articles then feed on each other and reinforce the message that Blagojevich is no different than anyone else, despite his protestations to the contrary. Wyma claims that he never lobbied for keno on behalf of GTECH. Blagojevich’s staffers claim that they never talked to Wyma about keno and didn’t even know Wyma was working for GTECH. All of that may be true, but how many people will believe it? Not many.
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