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Legislative scholarships ending but lawmaker abuse lives on

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Updated: August 21, 2012 6:22AM



Legislative scholarships are the abusive gift that keeps on giving, despite the fact that Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill abolishing the scandalized program last week following years of reports by the BGA, Sun-Times and others about Illinois lawmakers who doled out the college freebies to the children of friends, cronies and political allies based on clout and connections instead of need and competence.

Earlier this week the Better Government Association reported that one of every 10 scholarships handed out in the past decade went to politically active families with enough cash to collectively pour $1.6 million into the campaign funds of state and local politicians.

Now we have new information about the handout habits of state Sen. Annazette Collins, the subject of a Sun-Times report last March on how she may have violated the scholarship program’s lone rule by awarding the tuition waivers to several teens who didn’t live anywhere near her West Side district. That story sparked a federal investigation.

But Collins’ troubles with legislative scholarships go much deeper — and she’s not alone — according to further investigation by the BGA. Collins apparently awarded 18 additional scholarships to individuals who didn’t live in her 10th District, according to a BGA review of more than 5,000 legislative scholarships dispensed to individuals in Cook County between 2003 and 2011.

In all, 40 state lawmakers collectively parceled out 120 scholarships to individuals living outside of their respective districts, based on a BGA review of district maps and interviews with election officials.

Collins led all lawmakers in the disbursement of out-of-district scholarships, followed by Sen. Martin Sandoval and Sen. William Delgado, who each awarded eight. Former Rep. Calvin Giles doled out seven, while Rep. Monique Davis and former Sen. Rickey Hendon followed with six.

Neither Hendon nor Giles could be reached for comment. Collins, Davis and Sandoval did not immediately return our phone calls.

Sen. Delgado said he believed recipients were his constituents and did not know they lived outside his district until notified by the BGA. He stressed the scholarships were not political handouts.

Collins told the Sun-Times in March that scholarship recipients sometimes moved without notifying her office so she didn’t know they were no longer eligible.

Thankfully, this politicized perk will be history on Sept. 1.

Partners in anti-corruption

Is there life after City Hall? Of course, and not just a cell in the joint, even though that’s been the forwarding address for more than 30 Chicago aldermen and hundreds of corrupt city workers who violated the public trust over the years.

But political afterlife also includes the honest and important work of people like former Ald. Dick Simpson, who’s been our Chief Corruption Chronicler from his perch atop the political science department at UIC after two terms in the City Council in the ’70s.

Simpson and his students have produced six corruption reports in the last three-plus years by analyzing news accounts of all the misbehavior of public officials in Chicago, Cook County, state of Illinois and, most recently, the individual suburbs.

They’ve documented 1,848 corruption convictions in Illinois since 1976 — most of them in the Chicago area — which explains why Chicago is considered the most corrupt big city in the country and Illinois the third most corrupt state. The latest report on the suburbs documents 130 corruption convictions since 1976 — mostly shakedowns, kickbacks, bribes, thefts and zoning fixes — but this study has a new wrinkle: Simpson is passing along the new corruption allegations he’s receiving from suburban residents to the BGA because we have an investigative staff to follow up on the tips, and we’re doing just that with the first 10 that’ve come in.

This is the kind of partnership that turns statistics into stories, and stories into proposed reforms.

“Real stories tend to move voters and public officials to action,” said Simpson, who laments the paucity of real reform that’s followed previous reports.

Send us your tips and join the BGA through www.bettergov.org. Contact BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw via info@bettergov.org or (312) 427-8330.



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