Monday, February 2, 2009

National Legal and Policy Center Focuses on Next Phase in Blagojevich-Johnston 'Pay to Play' Saga

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today the National Legal and Policy Center publicly released an in-depth analysis of financial contributions made to Friends of Blagojevich from Balmoral and Maywood race track owner John Johnston and other Johnston-owned/affiliated interests. The new analysis reveals that previous accounts of Johnston contributions to Friends of Blagojevich greatly under-reported the actual contributions by Johnston family interests and far exceed the $160,000 in contributions that have been reported previously.

According to the latest analysis, which was sent to the House Impeachment Committee last Thursday afternoon, Johnston-owned/affiliated interests contributed more than $343,000 to Governor Blagojevich's campaign committee from 2002-2007. The new analysis uncovered several significant and large contributions from Johnston businesses or affiliates that heretofore had not been factored into official news accounts, including contributions from Coast to Coast Food Services Ltd. ($60,000), Racing Research ($15,000), the Egyptian Trotting Association ($45,000), and Associates Racing Association, Inc. ($40,000). All businesses are either registered to Johnston family members, share addresses with known Johnston businesses such as the Balmoral and Maywood racetracks, or include officers who also serve as officers or board members of other Johnston-owned/affiliated interests.

Additionally, the new analysis reveals that large blocks of contributions were made from several Johnston-owned/affiliated interests on the same day on at least six different occasions during the 2002-2007 time period. On at least two occasions, contributions totaling $100,000 or more were received by the Friends of Blagojevich campaign on the same day or within days of each other.

The new analysis is particularly noteworthy given last week's removal of Governor Blagojevich from office and the anticipated federal indictment of the Governor by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Last week, the Illinois House Impeachment Committee released transcripts of conversations between Governor Blagojevich and his brother Rob Blagojevich concerning an expected $100,000 contribution from John Johnston allegedly in exchange for the Governor's signature on legislation benefiting horse racing interests and the Johnston family. According to transcripts of those conversations, the Governor's brother quoted Mr. Johnston as agreeing to make the $100,000 contribution and saying "I gotta just decide what, what uh, accounts to get it out of."

That conversation coupled with the new revelations of large blocks of contributions of $100,000 or more to Friends of Blagojevich from several different Johnston-owned/affiliated accounts suggest that Mr. Johnston may have chosen to make large contributions from several different entities in order to obfuscate the original source of the contributions, cobble together larger aggregate amounts that were more acceptable to Governor Blagojevich in exchange for the Governor's support of legislation or perhaps both.

Illinois election records reveal for instance that between May 21, 2002 and June 3, 2002, $100,000 in contributions were made to Friends of Blagojevich from Johnston interests with $85,000 received by Friends of Blagojevich on one day -- May 21st. Thirteen days later, Illinois election records record an additional contribution of $15,000 from Racing Research registered to William H. Johnston Jr. at 8600 W. North Ave. in Melrose Park -- the same address as the Maywood Park racetrack.

On June 27, 2006, Illinois election records reveal seven different contributions from Johnston interests to Friends of Blagojevich totaling $135,000. The contributions came almost exactly one month after Governor Blagojevich signed HB-1918 on May 26, 2008 which amended the Horse Racing Act to establish the original Horse Racing Equity Trust Fund. That legislation provided for the horse racing industry to receive 3% of the adjusted gross revenues from four riverboat casinos in Illinois.

Ken Boehm, Chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a Washington DC based think tank focused on ethics and government said of the new revelations "We don't take any position on gambling or horse racing and don't have an opinion as to whether the contributions were illegal or inappropriate. However, we do believe that voters in Illinois deserve a full and complete airing of these issues to determine if campaign dollars were used in exchange for 'pay to play' politics, and if so, to what extent."

Boehm continued, "When our elected officials attempt to barter the power of their offices to the highest bidder, only those citizens who are deep pocketed enough or have the right connections retain the capability to benefit from the political process. The rest of us lose.

The Illinois General Assembly apparently found enough evidence of wrongdoing to remove Governor Blagojevich from office. It's our hope that as the Blagojevich saga now moves to the expected indictment phase, all allegations concerning the extent that the Governor may have been selling his good offices for favorable legislative outcomes will be fully explored and investigated," Boehm concluded.

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