Thursday, January 08, 2009

Burris' $1.2 Million Question

Senator-designate Roland Burris appeared before the House impeachment committee in Springfield this afternoon to answer legislators' questions about his appointment by the embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Burris steadfastly maintained that he had not agreed to any quid pro quo with the governor for his appointment. Burris told reporters after the hearing that he "passed with flying colors", but I think that is an over-exuberant reaction from Burris. I was struck by the tentativeness in many of Burris' responses to committee members' questions. I mean that not in the sense that he was being evasive in his answers, but his memory wasn't what I would expect of a 71-year-old man in good health.

None of the questions posed to Burris should have come as a surprise to him, particularly since a list of the toughest questions one Republican lawmaker planned to ask were leaked to the media in advance. Burris, who has been a registered state and federal lobbyist for the past few years, could only recall the identity of a couple of his lobbying clients, and even then he couldn't state their names correctly. Similarly, he had to rely on his attorney for details about campaign contributions he had made to Blagojevich over the past several years. A Republican lawmaker cited a $22,000 figure to Burris. He put the number at about half that amount, saying contributions from a law firm at which he was of counsel should not be attributed to him. Burris said he resigned from his law firm and as a lobbyist upon the governor making the appointment last month.

The only troubling cloud hanging over Burris during his testimony today really had nothing to do with the governor. Rather, questions were raised about a $1.2 million loan Burris' gubernatorial campaign received from Telephone USA Investments, which is owned by Joseph Stroud. Burris, who lost that primary race to Blagojevich, closed down his campaign committee without repaying the loan, effectively making it the largest political contribution in Illinois political history. Stroud's company made only one other contribution, $100,000 to Blagojevich in that same campaign. There is no indication that Burris or his campaign did anything improper, but it's not an ideal situation for a new senator to enter office, owing that much to one individual. Burris said Stroud never contacted him for repayment of the loan, leaving us to conclude it was forgiven. Burris told committee members that he opened up his own federal campaign committee on January 5 in anticipation of being seated as Illinois' junior senator so he could begin collecting campaign contributions.

The Chicago Tribune also reported today that Burris had made a telephone call to a Burris campaign official on behalf of his nephew, Steven Burris, who had applied for a position as the CFO of the Illinois Historic Preservation Commission. Although Burris' nephew was tapped for the job, he has never been hired because of budget constraints. Burris' call on behalf of his nephew took place months, if not weeks prior to Blagojevich's December 9 arrest by FBI agents.

The House impeachment committee, following Burris' testimony, unanimously approved articles of impeachment against Gov. Blagojevich this evening. The resolution now moves to the full House where a vote could be taken as soon as tomorrow. The committee chose not to await the release of the transcript of a select number of phone calls recorded by federal agents under a court-approved wiretap. Although Judge James Holderman signed off on the selected release earlier this week, Blagojevich's attorneys have been given an opportunity to review and challenge the selected release. Blagojevich's attorneys are also seeking the removal of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from their client's case because of inflammatory statements he made about the governor during the announcement of his arrest last month.

1 comment:

Concerned Taxpayer said...

Carl Drummer (Center Township) has over $11 MILLION DOLLARS in a savings account. The township also owns NUMEROUS large buildings (which makes them tax-exempt, of course) including a parking garage full of expensive automobiles, and a complete health club!

Then there is Wayne Township, where the trustee pays himself a package over $113,000 a year, and HIS BROTHER (chief of staff!) nearly $112,000 a year.

In addition, they both have new, unlimited use take-home vehicles, complete with radios, sirens, emergency lights, and a gas credit card.

No, we DO NOT need township government here in Marion County.