Lawmakers studying impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich heard Monday from a political watchdog who said she sees strong links between campaign contributions to him and contracts awarded to work for the state.
"I do not personally know if the governor has committed acts of corruption, but the appearance of corruption — a standard our courts have acknowledged in upholding campaign contribution limits — is indisputable," said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and a member of the governor's transition team in 2002 who focused on ethics and reform.
The committee broke for the week Monday, still waiting to hear from the U.S. attorney's office just how deeply they'll be able to probe the charges against the governor.
The governor was arrested Dec. 9 on federal corruption charges that include scheming to benefit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate replacement. Blagojevich last week declared his innocence and vowed to stay in office and fight the charges.
The committee has said it won't do anything to hamper U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the governor, and last week asked him for guidance on what it should avoid.
Committee members say they expect Fitzgerald will advise them to avoid most if not all the case, which would leave little for lawmakers to do before they recommend whether to pursue the governor's impeachment.
Allegations that political and business heavyweights raised money for the Democratic governor in exchange for state contracts and positions in state government are at the heart of the federal charges against him.
One company mentioned Monday by Canary is ACS State and Local Solutions, a Dallas-based company that donated more than $56,000 to the governor between 2002 and 2007. The company has contracts with the state averaging $17 million in each of the past six years.
Donors also included attorney and fundraiser Myron Cherry, who along with his law firm donated $50,000 to the governor in 2002 and 2004, and later billed state for $900,000 worth of legal services, she said.
Eventually the governor vetoed legislation intended to block people with state contracts worth $50,000 or more from contributing to the politicians who administer them. The Senate overrode the veto, and the law takes effect in January.
The pay-to-play law that takes effect in January was drafted in response to an increase in political donations being made to the governor, starting in 2003, Canary said.
The governor's attorney, Ed Genson, challenged the notion that a campaign contributor winning state contracts is unusual or wrong.
"The fact of the matter is, the people that donate to politicians for the most part have an interest in putting positions before those politicians," he said.
The committee's chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said afterward that while Canary didn't give the committee information that would stand up in court, she did point out connections between the governor and his donors that lawmakers will have to consider.
"She raises the circumstantial question, does this pass the smell test?" Currie told reporters.
Genson said after Monday's hearing that he hadn't heard anything that should lead the committee to recommend that the General Assembly move ahead with impeachment.
"I think we have a good chance," the Chicago attorney said in the hall outside a state Capitol committee room. "Now that, hopefully, the rush to judgment is going to slow down a little, there are fair people on that commission who will listen to me and give us fair consideration."
The committee will meet again Dec. 29. Genson said he has a list of witnesses he wants to bring before the committee next week, and estimated he'll need about a day to do so.
Rep. Frank Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat, said the committee could make a recommendation as early as the first week of January.
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