Jim Dey: Website wants every tax dime online
Most East Central Illinois residents probably haven't heard about the controversy involving a suburban community college president caught scheming about how to extract $20 million in state funds that his campus didn't need.
"... not being able to say how we would use the state's money (perhaps no real need) could lessen our chances to break the money loose at this time (the political moon is rising). A building that focuses on teaching and learning is politically attractive," wrote Dr. Robert Breuder, president of the College of DuPage in an email to trustees.
He even hit upon a plan to publicly laud Pat Quinn when the governor spoke at the college's recent commencement.
"... I want to help our cause (getting the $20 million released sooner rather than later) by thanking him for his commitment in front of 3,500 people. There are many voters in our district. Please keep November in mind," said Breuder, referring to Quinn's re-election campaign.
Whatever scheme Breuder hatched, his plan worked. The $20 million was in the pipeline — at least until his email plotting became public. Citing "the tactics used by the president in his email," Gov. Quinn suspended the funding.
"We have no tolerance for any misrepresentation of how funds will be used," a Quinn spokesman stated.
News of the email is just one of a series of recent disclosures involving the College of DuPage generated by Adam Andrzejewski (pronounced Angie-f-ski), the ramrod of OpenTheBooks.com, a website dedicated to putting government spending online.
He doesn't just mean spending in Illinois. Andrzejewski wants it all.
"Our goal is to put every dime taxed and spent at every level of government across the country on OpenTheBooks.com," he said.
Here's how it's going so far.
OpenTheBooks.com puts its users a few clicks away from:
— The salaries and pensions of all public employees in 40 of the 50 states, including Illinois.
— At least one year of checkbook spending for 41 of 50 states.
— "Every single federal dollar" spent since 2000.
— The seven-year salary history of 2.5 million federal employees.
Take the ongoing scandal at the U.S. Veterans's Administration. In addition to the delayed and poor medical treatment accorded to veterans, the news media recently disclosed that a huge percentage of VA administrators received bonuses for their shoddy work.
With the VA slow-walking or ignoring freedom-of-information requests from the media, where did reporters come up with all that information about VA bonuses? They were supping at the trough of OpenTheBooks.com's federal employee salary history.
"They were making specific requests for (federal employee salary histories), and we would give them the information. They loved it," said Andrzejewski, citing a variety of national newspaper, television and radio news organizations.
If his name sounds strange but slightly familiar, it's because Andrzejewski ran for the Republican nomination for governor four years ago.
While state Sen. Bill Brady won the primary and went on to lose to Quinn, Andrzejewski withdrew from politics as a candidate and attacked the problem of government spending from another direction.
He decided to follow the money.
Supported by charitable donations, OpenTheBooks.com is located in a 2,000-square-foot office in Burr Ridge. Andrzejewski has three employees in Burr Ridge and eight college student interns with "all kinds of skill sets."
"All the kids are better on computers than any of us," Andrzejewski noted.
He also has three employees based in Florida who handle computer issues.
Everyone gets paid but Andrzejewski, who has the luxury of living on his earnings from a business that he built and eventually sold.
The theory behind OpenTheBooks.com is that government wastes a lot of money in a variety of ways. By putting that spending under a microscope, embarrassing the public officials who misspent it and angering the citizens whose money was squandered, Andrzejewski hopes to change the way government operates.
He usually lets others lead the charge. But Andrzejewski recently examined spending at the College of DuPage, and the telltale email barely scratched the surface.
For instance, Breuder had a $469,365 compensation package for the fiscal year that ended June 30. It included an $8,400 automobile allowance, a "professional development" payment of $36,000, $24,900 for an annuity, an $18,000 housing allowance, six weeks of vacation and an additional 12 days for "respite and renewal." Breuder didn't even contribute to his own generous state pension — the college kicked in $22,000 for that.
Paid a salary of $269,000, Breuder's contract states that he can only be fired "for cause" by a super-majority (5/7th) of the college board.
Then there's the massive spending at the DuPage County college — $550 million in construction since 2009. In addition, the college has spent $192,000 over the past four years on wine and wine accessory purchases. The wine presumably goes into the wine cellar at the college's French restaurant, which was opened in 2011 and lost $576,000 in fiscal year 2012.
"We are trying to quantify the losses in FY 2013," Andrzejewski said.
Or the wine could go to the college's hotel, "The Inn at Water's Edge."
"The College of DuPage looked like it has forgotten its core mission," Andrzejewsi said.
Those disclosures, while eye-catching, are nothing new to the crew at OpenTheBooks.com.
"We spend all day looking and hardly find anything good," Andrzejewski said.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at email@example.com or at 217-351-5369.