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Thursday, March 29, 2012 03:15 pm

Not at the trough

At least some members of Congress resist cash

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U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, is one of just three House members from Illinois who didn’t earn a spot on a list populated by politicians who gave campaign cash to themselves or relatives.
PHOTO BY STEVE NAGY/MCT

Perhaps the difficulty of making ends meet on a salary of $174,000 explains why 14 of 19 members of Congress from Illinois funneled campaign money to themselves, relatives or organizations linked to themselves or relatives.

The list released last week by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a bipartisan affair. It includes such names as U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, who took more than $154,000 from his campaign fund and gave his mother an additional $23,711, and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Chicago, who gave his wife’s political consulting firm $196,000 and contributed another $164,000 to her Chicago aldermanic campaign. The list also includes two members of the delegation who have relatives employed as lobbyists, bringing the total tally to 16.

Just seven states – Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont – had no politicians on the list. From sea to shining sea, Illinois stands out as a leader when it comes to a congressional delegation with relatives who work as lobbyists and members of Congress who give campaign cash to themselves, family members or entities with links to themselves or relatives. More than 84 percent of the delegation from the Land of Lincoln is on CREW’s list, topped only by Missouri (89 percent) among states that have at least six representatives in the House.

Consider U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago, one of 38 House members who earmarked public money to a business or nonprofit organization with ties to themselves. Rush secured $688,500 for Beloved Community Family Services, which provides “a network of compassionate services to promote cultural, economic and social well-being,” according to the website of the entity with the same address as Beloved Community Christian Church, where Rush was pastor before going to Washington, CREW reported. Rush gave another $52,325 in campaign funds to the church itself and another $215,150 in campaign money to his wife. It is, apparently, all good so far as Rush’s constituents are concerned – he is now serving his 10th term.

Then there are folks like U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, whose names don’t appear on the CREW list.

Johnson and Shimkus are Republicans, as is U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, the only other member of the delegation who isn’t on the list.

Steve Tomaszewski, spokesman for Shimkus, said he doesn’t believe that geography or party alignment explains why two of the three members of the state delegation who aren’t on the list are Republicans from central Illinois. In Shimkus’ case, Tomaszewski said it’s a matter of Paying Attention.

“The congressman is careful and trusts those he puts in positions to watch out for things as well,” Tomaszewski said.

Phil Bloomer, Johnson spokesman, said that his boss’s son, Robert, is now working for his father’s campaign, so Johnson would be on the list, which is based on the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, if it included more recent information. But he defended Johnson as a congressman who takes ethics seriously.

“I’m proud to say that Tim Johnson doesn’t use his office or his campaign to feather his nest in any way,” Bloomer said.

Bloomer said he believes that the list will reinforce negative perceptions of Congress.

“The money going to wives and churches, I guess this is all legal,” Bloomer said. “But it does raise your eyebrows. … I think it reinforces the cynicism that people have toward politicians, and deservedly so.”

An interview request sent to Schock’s office was answered with a written statement sent via email, which isn’t necessarily surprising given that the congressman ranked fourth in the amount of campaign money taken by members of Congress and the press release sent by the group that did the research is titled “CREW Releases Report Revealing Rep. Schock Abused His Position To Benefit Himself And His Mother.”

A hotel bill from Athens, Greece? That was a mistake that has been corrected, with Schock reimbursing his campaign, according to the written statement. Same thing with a $390 fitness DVD. Schock’s mother, a campaign volunteer, got reimbursed for legitimate expenses, according to the statement. And Schock has never been to the Virgin Islands. Rather, the Virgin Islands airfare referred to in the CREW report involved travel within Puerto Rico, where Schock attended fundraising meetings.

Oh.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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