We haven’t talked in months, so I was surprised to learn that, in your capacity as Illinois Democratic chairman, you recently sent a letter to party leaders condemning the Better Government Association and my tenure as its CEO.
In a few brief paragraphs, you accuse us of trying to “impugn the Democratic Party,” using “bullying tactics” in our investigations, and supporting your political opponents.
Our motivation, you suggest, is to become a political “kingmaker.”
The letter’s gotten a lot of attention, so let’s try to set the record straight.
First, the BGA agenda is the same today as it was 90 years ago, when the organization was established in Chicago to fight the violence and corruption of the Capone era by shining a light on government and holding public officials accountable, regardless of political affiliation.
Ask former Republican governors Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan if we gave their administrations a pass because of their party.
Corruption is a culture in Illinois that’s not limited to one side or the other.
And neither is the work of the BGA. We have no permanent friends or permanent enemies — just a permanent commitment to fight for the taxpayers.
If that focuses on more Democrats these days it’s because your party controls most of the government offices in Chicago, Cook County and Springfield, where you’re the House Speaker.
That’s political reality, not partisanship.
Your letter also accused the BGA of “bullying.”
I know you’re offended by a recent BGA/Sun-Times story on the political workers who circulated your 2012 nominating petitions.
We learned as many as 29 of the 30 campaign aides have or had government jobs that collectively paid about $2 million a year, and they’ve contributed more than $200,000 to political funds controlled by you or your daughter Lisa, the attorney general.
Our BGA investigator on the story stopped by the homes of the workers we couldn’t reach by phone to confirm the details.
He was polite and professional, asking questions and then moving on.
That’s basic reporting — not bullying — and we never suggested anyone was doing anything illegal or improper.
We were simply looking at how government and politics feed off each other in Illinois.
That’s what watchdogs do.
Your letter also refers to the BGA’s lobbying efforts as an attempt to “muster opposition” to Democratic candidates.
Again, not true.
We back legislation aimed at making government more honest, transparent, accountable, efficient and fair.
You’ve supported some of those reform efforts.
And we’ll continue to lobby both sides of the aisle — not for political gain but for better government.
Finally, the BGA is not trying to become a “kingmaker.”
Just the opposite: We’re committed to empowering regular citizens through our online and in-person civic engagement activities.
If enough people are watching, and holding elected officials accountable, we’ll eventually get our money’s worth.
By the way, we’re celebrating our 90th anniversary at a luncheon downtown on Thursday.
We’ll talk about the BGA’s past, present and future, and hear from NBC anchor Lester Holt and former U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald.
The guests and sponsors include Democrats, Republicans and Independents who support our mission.
We’re expecting a big crowd.
So feel free to join us if you’re in the neighborhood.
Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association.