Another state corruption probe
It's an Illinois tradition — another gubernatorial administration, another criminal investigation.
If Gov. Pat Quinn didn't have enough troubles running state government, now he's got a big new headache — federal and state investigations of his administration's handling of a $55 million anti-violence grant.
Two months ago, Auditor General William Holland reported the damning facts in an audit of Quinn's 2010 Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, an election year effort that was aimed at reducing gun violence in some of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods. Unfortunately, what the audit revealed is that the money was largely flushed down the drain, handed out to favored groups under the supervision of the city aldermen and producing little in the way of concrete results.
Auditors faulted Quinn for insisting that too much money be spent in too little time, making it difficult for administrators in the Department of Human Services and the now-defunct Illinois Violence Prevent Authority to properly implement the program.
Republicans have since charged that the Quinn initiative was really an effort to spread money around in black neighborhoods so that the recipients would actively support his re-election effort. When Quinn announced the program in 2010, he was involved in a tough election campaign against Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, a contest the governor narrowly won.
At this point, it's impossible to say with assurance that the critics are correct about Quinn's motivations. But it is irrefutable that the programs were poorly administered, even by Illinois' lax standards. Administrators might as well have placed a flashing red light over a pile of cash and posted a sign that said, "Here's some money to steal."
The anti-violence grants were supposed to go to crime-ridden neighborhoods. But Holland's audit revealed that some violence-ridden neighborhoods got none while other less-violent neighborhoods got plenty. How was the cash dispensed?
Administrators interviewed by the auditor general's investigators said they selected neighborhoods for support based on an "analysis" provided by the Department of Human Services.
But Holland reported that investigators "could not locate the analysis used" or locate "any other documentation ... showing how Chicago communities were selected to participate."
It turns out that state bureaucrats asked Chicago aldermen where they should send the money and that any organization seeking funds without aldermanic blessing was not eligible. So it should be no surprise that large sums of money simply disappeared or, to put it another way, went into the pockets of unknown individuals.
Holland's audit has stirred the interest of investigators.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has, according to news reports, subpoenaed relevant state records, although it would be surprising if Alvarez, a connected Democrat, is really interested in targeting any of her fellow Democrats in a corruption investigation. It has long been the tradition of Cook County prosecutors to ignore governmental corruption, leaving that issue for federal investigators to pursue.
More comforting is news that federal prosecutors also have subpoenaed state records.
Whatever they ultimately discover, it's hard to imagine that the probe will have any significant effect on Quinn's 2014 re-election campaign.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner was quick to criticize Quinn, noting that his is the third straight administration to come under federal scrutiny. Quinn's two predecessors, Democrat Rod Blagojevich and Republican George Ryan, both were convicted of corruption charges. Ryan has served his sentence while Blagojevich remains in prison.
However, Quinn's many detractors have never suggested he's personally corrupt. Second, federal investigations take months to complete, and the election is in November.
But it's an outrage how this money was dispensed and then spent. The Holland audit revealed the depths of the problems surrounding the anti-violence program's implementation. Now competing investigations will consider the depth of criminality that resulted in this gross assault on taxpayer money.