Just three weeks after appointing Chicago attorney Jack Carriglio to a powerful state board that oversees billions of dollars in assets, Gov. Rod Blagojevich received a $25,000 campaign contribution from Carriglio's law firm.
Carriglio, who declined to comment, is one of scores of appointments that Blagojevich has made in a time-honored practice that has been called Patronage Lite.Like presidents giving ambassadorships and honorary posts to political allies, Illinois governors have long appointed friends and contributors to state positions.
Blagojevich has made about 700 appointments to state boards, commissions and agencies since becoming governor in January 2003. A Tribune analysis of public records found that many of those appointees, their companies, groups they are affiliated with or their relatives have contributed almost $1.9 million to the governor.
Dozens of Blagojevich appointees also gave more than $246,000 to the campaign fund of Blagojevich's father-in-law, Chicago Ald. Richard Mell (33rd). At least 25 of those appointees, their companies or organizations can be linked to gifts of $25,000 or more to the Blagojevich campaign, records showed.
In addition to Carriglio, who was appointed to the Teachers Retirement System board in May, the figures included two previously disclosed instances in which doctors selected by Blagojevich to serve on the scandal-plagued Health Facilities Planning Board each contributed $25,000 to the governor's campaign within three weeks of their appointments.
Political scientist Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield said Blagojevich has an obligation to "bend over backwards" to eliminate even an appearance of a conflict of interest because he held himself up during the campaign as a fervently committed reformer.
"If you're going to go out and say, `This is the new order and we're squeaky-clean and no more business as usual,' that requires some sacrifice," said Redfield, the interim director of the university's Institute of Legislative Studies.
Blagojevich insisted there is no correlation between about 120 political appointees connected to campaign donations and the governor's appointment process.
"We don't look at who contributes money," he said in an interview earlier this year.
Blagojevich said the fact that the vast majority of appointees did not donate to his campaign proves there is no connection.
"That means well over 500, by your numbers, haven't [donated]," Blagojevich said. "I'm delighted to hear that, quite frankly. It's more than I thought."
And the governor said he is sure his campaign staff also does not solicit donations from potential appointees, saying such a practice "would be extremely inappropriate."
$36.4 million raised in 4 years
A prolific fundraiser unmatched in Illinois history, Blagojevich has generated $36.4 million in only four years. It took his predecessor, former Republican Gov. George Ryan, 30 years in state government to raise $40 million.
Blagojevich has successfully championed ethics reforms, including a law that banned lobbyists from serving on boards and commissions.
But he has come under criticism for being slow to make some appointments, such as to a highly touted ethics commission and a specially designated group charged with reviewing recent changes in the death penalty.
As a campaigner intent on changing the anything-goes atmosphere in Springfield, Blagojevich railed against Ryan for rewarding insiders and political pals. But Blagojevich has not refrained from awarding appointments and contracts to his benefactors, either.
His administration, for example, gave a $214,000 contract to manage the state's fleet of vehicles to Maximus Inc. of Reston, Va. The company contributed $20,000 to Blagojevich and has paid former Republican Gov. Jim Thompson, a member of Blagojevich's transition team, to sit on its board.