Some of you may have read or heard about a Better Government Association investigation of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) that ran in the Chicago Sun-Times last weekend.
It raised serious concerns about Rush’s inability to recall basic facts and justify his actions on a variety on financial fronts — personal, political and charitable.
The troubling findings include:
◆ Rush’s South Side campaign office may not have paid rent for more than a decade, in possible violation of federal law. What’s more, he’s using campaign money to subsidize a church he runs on the South Side.
◆ Charities affiliated with Rush were given more than $1.7 million by telecommunication and utility companies seeking his support in Congress, and he generally complied.
◆ Rush is a deadbeat when it comes to paying taxes he owes to government, and some of his personal finances appear to be in disarray.
◆ A nonprofit founded by Rush was given $1 million by the charitable arm of SBC — now AT&T — to build a “technology” center in Chicago’s impoverished Englewood neighborhood, but the facility was never built.
Why? And where did the money go?
Rush told us in an interview the million bucks was never intended for a bricks-and-mortar facility, but rather programs — in other words, computer training in off-site venues like libraries.
But he couldn’t or wouldn’t provide records verifying that, and he was vague about the level of training residents got.
“I couldn’t answer whether they were high-tech or low-tech,” Rush said of the training sessions. “A lot of it was technology. Most of it was technology. . . . Let’s stop splitting hairs.”
And the building issue? Well, Rush’s nonprofit hired an architect to design one, and we have schematics to prove it. Rush and SBC also put out press releases roughly a decade ago announcing the grant for the tech center, and subsequent interviews also made it clear that was the plan.
Did the tech center grant underwrite other programs through the nonprofit? “That was many years ago,” Rush said. “I have no answer for that. I have no way of knowing that.”
He maintains the money wasn’t stolen or squandered, but that claim, without verification, doesn’t suffice, so we’re suggesting some options for shining more light on the situation:
◆ The House Ethics Committee can see if Rush crossed any legal or ethical lines in regards to the million-dollar grant, his charity accepting tons of money from regulated companies seeking his legislative help, and his campaign office apparently not paying rent.
◆ The Federal Election Commission can look at whether Rush or his campaign operation violated federal law by apparently accepting free rent, not reporting it as an in-kind donation and possibly exceeding donation limits.
◆ The Internal Revenue Service can investigate the tax implications of all this, including whether Rush’s nonprofit violated the law by wrongly claiming on one disclosure form the tech center had been built, which wasn’t true.
The IRS can also find out if Rush used campaign cash to enhance his personal lifestyle, which is what got former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in trouble.
We’re not suggesting that Rush broke the law, but we are saying the fog needs to be cleared and real answers provided.
Our investigation wasn’t a “rush” to judgment. But it does cry out for the proper authorities to make their judgments about Rush.
Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association.