Abusing the state legislative scholarship program may not be a risk-free venture.
If there's one thing Illinois legislators have made clear over the past few years, it's how far they will go to keep valued perks, most especially their ability to grant tuition waivers to the children of favored constituents.
The legislative scholarship program has been scandal-ridden for decades, to the point that many people inside and outside the General Assembly have urged the program be dismantled. But majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate have repeatedly refused.
All the same, news out of Chicago may give some legislators second thoughts about the risks of dispensing these scholarships in a cavalier fashion.
U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald, the man whose office has prosecuted many corrupt public officials, including former Govs. Ryan and Blagojevich, is conducting a criminal investigation of a former Chicago-area legislator who lavished nearly $100,000 in scholarships on the children of a political supporter and donor.
News reports indicate that retired state Rep. Robert Molaro, now a Springfield lobbyist, gave tuition waivers to four children of Phillip Bruno, even though neither Bruno nor his children lived in Molaro's legislative district.
One of the few requirements of the scholarship program is that recipients live in the district represented by the legislator awarding the scholarship. Of course, that provision has been repeatedly ignored over the years by legislators intent on extending political favors. (Sometimes legislators evade these requirement by trading scholarships with fellow legislators.)
This kind of corruption has been repeatedly exposed in the news media. But it's a whole different ballgame when federal investigators start sniffing around.
The feds reportedly have served subpoenas for records on the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago as well as Illinois State University.
In applying for a legislative scholarship, the recipients reportedly listed addresses within Molaro's district. At the same time, however, they gave the universities to which they applied different addresses located outside Molaro's districts. Their addresses on such vital documents as driver's licenses and voter registration cards also were outside Molaro's district.
It's one thing to finesse bad publicity, especially to a corruption-weary public. But Fitzgerald's office has unlimited investigative resources and the power to put people in jail. Prosecutorial authority is about all some politicians understand, and it should be reason for members of the Illinois House and Senate to look at the tuition waiver program in a brand new light.