Monday, December 15, 2014

Former Star Reporter's Inquiry Goads Emanuel Into Reimbursing City For Travel Expenses

I've commented before about how good reporters become bad reporters when they work for the Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star, which provides cover for selected political insiders who are defrauding taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars in this state. One former State House reporter for the Star, Bill Ruthhart, who never did anything but softball stories about the people he covered in state government during the Daniels administration, now works for the Chicago Tribune and regularly cranks out real investigative stories.

Like Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a prolific traveler. A security detail accompanies him on all of his out-of-state trips as is the case with Mayor Ballard. Ruthhart has been probing Emanuel's travel expenses. One day after Rutthart questioned the mayor's staff about a trip Emanuel took to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the mayor reimbursed the city for more than $7,000 in travel expenses he charged taxpayers to have a city-provided security detail accompany him. Altogether now, Emanuel has reimbursed city taxpayers at least $22,000 for out-of-state travel after the Tribune reported on questionable charges for past trips.
. . . It's the third check Emanuel has cut to taxpayers — a tab that's reached nearly $22,000 — in response to Tribune stories that showed how the mayor has used city funds to pay for trips during which he solicited campaign contributions and attended political events that included little or no official city business. 
This time, Emanuel has reimbursed the city for the cost of bringing three members of his security detail to a political convention where he gave a speech in support of President Barack Obama's re-election. The mayor, however, did not issue his latest check until the day after the Tribune asked his administration whether it had followed through on a pledge nearly three months earlier to determine whether the Charlotte expenses violated Emanuel's new travel policy.  
Emanuel directed his staff to draft the travel rules in the wake of a Tribune story that showed the mayor had taken at least 15 taxpayer-funded trips in which he mixed politics with city business or took part in events that helped burnish his national profile . . .
The Tribune reported in April that the mayor spent city funds on the Charlotte trip in a story that detailed that Emanuel had taken 56 trips during his first 21/2 years in office, with City Hall spending $355,000 on travel for the mayor and his staff. 
At that time, Emanuel's then-spokeswoman argued that it was appropriate for taxpayers to pay for his security costs in Charlotte, because "the mayor, regardless of where he is, is always the mayor, which is why he has security detail with him at almost all times. The security detail is serving him in his official capacity." . . . 
At least Emanuel is a recognizable figure to justify a security detail. Nobody outside of Indianapolis would even know Indianapolis' doofus mayor was a public figure if he didn't travel with a security detail in tow with him every time he travels outside the state to make himself feel important. All of those overseas Ballard takes supposedly as trade missions are paid for by Develop Indy, which receives taxpayer dollars to promote economic development and operates as an extension of the mayor's campaign committee. By any measure, no real city business occurs on any of Ballard's trips since no jobs have ever been created as a result of his trips. People who accompany the mayor on the trips are virtually all campaign contributors who do business with the city. Word on the street is that you can purchase a trip with Ballard overseas in exchange for campaign contributions of a certain level. Ballard has also traveled out-of-state on political trips, including the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, and to make speeches completely unrelated to his duties as mayor.


Anonymous said...

"Word on the street is that you can purchase a trip with Ballard overseas in exchange for campaign contributions of a certain level."

I almost puked a little. That has to be the worst way to get a vacation, ever. I could get a much better rate and travel companionship by calling Delta.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Mr Ruthhart would tell us about his experience at the Star? Is he now free to report on these types of stories, or do Chicago readers just demand these types of stories and thus more accountability from their elected leaders? Indiana politicians are so quick to point out Chicago corruption; things are no different here - the corruption just never gets brought out into the spotlight.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Perhaps it makes a difference that the Tribune competes against another major daily newspaper for readership, unlike the Star.