Sunday, March 3, 2013

DuPage County Board Chairman Cronin's Mandatory Ethics 101 Training Seminar - Too Little, Too Late for Chris Hage


"Eliminating boards and commissions that pay generously for part-time work will both pare down the size of government and help our bottom line." - Chris Hage, Republican candidate for 42nd District Representative of Illinois, February 2012

Last week CountyLeaks published, "EXPOSED: DuPage County Board Chairman Cronin's Above-And-Beyond-Reproach Appointment of Chris Hage!', Part One of a series on numerous ethical and public interest issues surrounding the reappointment of Chris Hage to the DuPage County Election Commission which remain unaddressed.

The same day the CountyLeaks blog story broke, Hage and representatives from other county agencies were attending an ethics training seminar as part of Cronin's DuPage ACT (Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency) Initiative

“'We are holding ourselves to a high standard,' county board Chairman Dan Cronin said, 'and we’re making sure that standard applies across the board,'" Robert Sanchez quoted in the Daily Herald.

"Holding Ourselves to a High Standard"

Hage's former co-worker, DuPage County First Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Wolfe led his ethics training last week. Not covered in the seminar, apparently, was the responsibility of appointed election board officials to shut down their campaign websites.

At the time of this publication, Election Commissioner Hage still has not disabled his "VoteHage", nor his "Citizens for Chris Hage" Facebook site leftover from his Republican 2012 primary race for 42nd District Representative of Illinois against Jeanne Ives.

Hage even announced his appointment to the Election Commission on his campaign's Facebook site, telling his political campaign followers: I am honored to be Chairman Cronin's choice for the Board of Elections vacancy... There is no doubt that our work on those issues helped in my selection for the Board. 
(Check out: Hage's Facebook photo with Karl Rove; he refers to the political strategist as "brilliant".)

Speaking of Facebook, at the time of this publication, Reception with Alberto Gonzalez, Former US Attorney General still floats from last summer. It reads: Event for Republican National Hispanic Assembly - Illinois Chapter, by Chris Hage. The date of the event is July 31, 2012 -- after Hage had already been placed on the Election Commission. This fundraiser was held on behalf of the Illinois Hispanic Republican Coalition, an active political committee according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

(CountyLeaks FLASHDon't miss the video orbiting on the RNHA's state convention in 2011 at the Comfort Inn in Dixon, the boyhood hometown of both Hage and The Gipper, of a failed coup d'├ętat attempt. 911 was dialed for police to escort former DuPage County Assistant State's Attorney Hage away.)

Hage's campaign committee, Citizens to Elect Chris Hage, remained active the first six months he was serving on the Election Commission. Cronin defended his re-appointment of Hage in a letter: I appointed Chris Hage to the Election Commission last year due in part to his previous experience as a candidate for public office. I feel that this unique knowledge of the electoral process allows Commissioner Hage to make significant contributions in concert with his fellow commissioners.

Yet it is Hage's experience as a candidate for public office and his "unique knowledge of the electoral process" which has given watchdogs concerns of ethics, conflicts of interest and public trust.

Citizens to Elect Chris Hage was an assembly of connections the candidate had made in DuPage County working as an assistant State's Attorney and his paid campaign activities. Hage's campaign chairman was Patti Birkett, wife of Joe Birkett, former DuPage County State's Attorney and now sitting on the Illinois District 2 Appellate Court.

Hage knows the Birkett family well, starting when he began working at the State's Attorney's office in 1998. The alliance evolved and the State's Attorney included Asst. State's Attorney Hage on his staff of Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett for his 2002 campaign for Illinois Attorney General and again for his 2006 campaign for Lieutenant Governor. Birkett's campaign paid Hage $137,454. 

Hage can thank long-time contracted attorney for the Election Commission, Pat Bond, also a former DuPage County assistant state's attorney, for a chunk of his salary. Bond was among Birkett's most generous individual contributors, writing out checks totaling over $20,000. Bond has exercised $170,000 in free speech to DuPage Republicans. Serving on the Election Commission, Hage has been approving payments to Bond's law firm which totaled $226,949 for 2012 alone. 

Through the campaigns of Birkett (and some paid work for former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan), Hage worked closely with paid political consultant Dan Delos Curry of Curry Public Strategies, which morphed into Reverse Spin, which changed its name to Delos Communications

CountyLeaks has written extensively about Curry and Reverse Spin, particularly about Birkett's recommendation to his peers on the Board of Governors of the Illinois State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor to steer contracts to his undisclosed political strategists from 2007 through 2009 at $48,000 annually. CountyLeaks has reported evidence suggesting that Reverse Spin's tax-paid work for ILSAAP overlapped into Birkett's political campaign. 

By the time Hage was appointed to the Election Commission, he was already on good terms with their PR firm -- Reverse Spin. The political strategists had been under contract with the Election Commission since April 2007 for $3,000 per month while simultaneously being paid for consulting on Republican campaigns.

Election Commission Chair Cathy Ficker Terrill questioned the need for the PR firm last summer, asking the other Board members if the time had come to end the firm's services. Commissioner Hage insisted on maintaining Reverse Spin, at least until after the November election; Commissioner Art Ludwig agreed. Reverse Spin remained another three months for $9,000 without a contract before resigning. (Lake County Eye has been ogling Reverse Spin's more recent enterprises.)

Hage never publicly disclosed to Terrill and Ludwig a potential conflict of interest with his long campaign history and political ally Reverse Spin. 

Citizens to Elect Chris Hage also had Wheaton attorney Barbara Skurka/Marquardt onboard with fundraising. On reports to the Illinois State Board of ElectionsBarbara uses one of two last names -- Skurka or Marquardt. There is no hyphenation.

Skurka/Marquardt and been paid $380,000 for extensive political work, especially for Birkett and Ryan. Citizens to Elect Dan Cronin paid Marquardt Consulting $10,000 in 2010 and Hage $1,500 in 2009.

Although Skurka/Marquardt was compensated well on other campaigns, there are no expenditures listed for her work on Citizens to Elect Chris Hage. 

RSVP's to two of Hage's political fundraisers were directed to her email address. According to David Diersen's GOPUSA Illinois Daily Clips, one of the guests at the Dec. 12, 2011 fundraiser at the Bank Restaurant in Wheaton was her husband, Scott.

Scott Marquardt is owner of Marquardt & Co. of Wheaton, a lobbying firm for both the office of State's Attorney and the Election Commission. Scott Marquardt and his wife are also former DuPage County assistant state's attorneys, former staff of Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan along with Reverse Spin's Dan Curry, and team up at the law firm, Marquardt & Belmonte of Wheaton.

Skurka/Marquardt is also the paid fundraiser for the campaign of current DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin. Since February 2011, Skurka/Marquardt has received an estimated $44,000 from Citizens for Bob Berlin for fundraising, despite Berlin never facing opposition. The campaign's paid treasurer is Jack Hogan, finance director of the DuPage Forest Preserve -- the same treasurer Hage, Birkett and Ryan paid for their political campaigns.

Marquardt & Co. are the lobbyists for the Election Commission, yet it appears Hage has never publicly disclosed to Terrill and Ludwig a potential conflict of interest with his long campaign history and alliance with the Marquardts. The Election Commission approves $3,000 monthly payments to the lobbying firm and gives direction on pending bills in Springfield.

Click HERE for a photo of lobbyist Scott Marquardt with his clientele DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin and DuPage County Election Commission attorney Pat Bond

The conduit between the Election Commission and the State's Attorney's office is Rick Veenstra of Addison. Veenstra, also a former DuPage County assistant state's attorney, is a former lobbyist with Marquardt & Co., who returned three years ago to the State's Attorney's office as Deputy Chief of the Civil Bureau and manager of its Governmental Affairs and Special Litigation Division. For about five minutes, Veenstra had considered running for the new 8th Congressional District seat.

Veenstra and Hage are old friends. Their names pop up together frequently at Republican events. Veenstra is the elected co-chairman of the Young Republican National Federation, while Hage is the executive director of the Federation of Illinois Young Republicans. At the time of this publication, Hage appears GQ in a wedding party photo of Veenstra's Facebook site. (UPDATE: This photo was removed after publication.)

It is unknown if Hage has disclosed his fraternization with Veenstra to Commissioners and how this might affect any complaints brought to the State's Attorney's office concerning the Election Commission.

Veenstra was an instructor in last Tuesday's ethics training seminar in DuPage County.

Ethics Smethics -- the Bases are Covered

A complaint could be filed with the DuPage County Ethics Commission to decide if any of these connections merit a review or investigation for possible ethics violations.

What would happen with such a request?

Paul Moreschi, also a former DuPage County assistant state's attorney, was appointed as the Ethics Commission's Inspector General. In the Chicago Tribune's July 2011 article, "DuPage Sheriff's Campaign Relies Heavily on Deputy Support", Joe Mahr and Christy Gutowski wrote about staff working for the reelection of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba:

...By day, Maj. Don Knoll is a top agency administrator who at times has arranged for defense lawyers to see their clients. For the campaign, Knoll personally has called some lawyers and asked for donations, said defense attorney Paul Moreschi and three other lawyers who asked not to be identified.

"I don't even know Zaruba or know if he's good, bad or otherwise, but I like Don Knoll," said Moreschi, who has given at least $640 to Zaruba's campaign since 2003. "He's terribly helpful. If ever I have an issue in the jail where I need to interview a client, he's always there to answer questions and help out. So I don't mind making a small contribution."

Two weeks ago, a federal jury returned a $1 million verdict against Zaruba's office for denying a promotion of a deputy due to political favoritism.

Last month, Daniel Hanlon was appointed as Ethics Advisor of the Ethics Commission. He is an associate at Marquardt & Belmonte of Wheaton and is also a former DuPage County assistant state's attorney.

Cronin, also a former DuPage County assistant state's attorney, appointed Moreschi and Hanlon with County Board approval.

Hanlon replaced Barbara Preiner, who had held a high position at the Ethics Commission since 2004. Preiner is also a former DuPage County assistant state's attorney and a former Solicitor General in Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan's administration. Preiner represented the state in the famous appeal of Alejandro Hernandez who was wrongfully convicted with Rolando Cruz for the murder of Jeanine Nicarico 30 years ago.

Top-selling novelist and attorney Scott Turow of Chicago represented Hernandez pro bono in this appeal. Thomas Frisbie and Randy Garrett wrote of Turow's experience on pages 326-327 in Victims of Justice Revisited:

Meanwhile, Turow was getting a taste of DuPage County's hard-nosed litigating style. When DuPage filed a motion, Turow would have five days to respond. DuPage, however, would put the motions in the mail on a Friday. Turow wouldn't get them until Tuesday, and then he would have only one day to answer. Turow would call and supply his Federal Express account number and fax number, but to no avail. DuPage kept mailing the motions on a Friday, and Turow kept worrying that he wouldn't get a motion until it was too late to respond.

The assigned legal counsel for the Ethics Commission is Rick Veenstra. As stated earlier, Veenstra is a former lobbyist of Marquardt & Co. and is the elected co-chairman of the Young Republican National Federation holding a long political alliance with Hage. As legal counsel, Veenstra would likely play a role in the decision-making of the fate of any ethics complaints.

CountyLeaks Asks:

Win a cookie! Without looking, can you correctly guess how many times the above story mentioned "also a former DuPage County assistant state's attorney"?

Are readers starting to notice a pattern?

Why did Reverse Spin change its name to Delos Communications? They claim it was after the Greek Isle. CountyLeaks says it's after the middle name of one of the purveyor's middle name.

Did Berlin's campaign ever farm out Skurka/Marquardt to assist Hage? Just asking... Why was she always well paid on other political campaigns, but no expenditures were reported on Citizens to Elect Chris Hage? Why was Berlin paying Skurka/Marquardt so much if he's never faced opposition?

Did Hage fail to report to the Illinois State Board of Elections the in-kind political consulting services donated to his campaign by Barbara Skurka/Marquardt? Is this just another "oversight" like failing to report the campaign expenditures for the rental of Danada House and the Q-BBQ for a well-attended fundraiser? Or will Hage pay Skurka back pay by continuing to approve contracts and payments to her Election Commission lobbyist husband?

According to the Federation of Illinois Young Republicans website and his own LinkedIn page, Hage continues to serve as executive director of the Federation. At what age does one become an old Republican?

Would any of these people survive a CountyLeaks Ethics Boot Camp? Drop 'n gimee 20, Hage!

Is it time to change the state statute allowing the DuPage County Election Commission to be an independent, county-wide election board? This law gives the County Board chairman the power to appoint its members without County Board approval. The County Board votes on other appointments of county-funded boards and commissions -- why not the Election Commission?

Did it show good judgement for Hage to maintain "Citizens to Elect Chris Hage" during the first six months he was serving on the Election Commission? Or don't the first six months matter? 

Why didn't Cronin tell Hage to shut down his political committee and websites prior to taking his oath to serve on the Election Commission last July?

Is it a conflict for the lobbying firm, Marquardt & Co., to work for the Election Commission  when there are long political ties between Hage and the Marquardts? (By the way, why does an electoral board require the services of a lobbying firm?)  

Is it ethical for the law firm, Bond Dickson & Assoc., to represent the Election Commission with its long political ties with Hage, especially when Bond and Hage can gang up and provide almighty legal perspectives to the Commission? What sorts of things do these guys discuss behind closed doors? How will we ever know? 

Is it ethical for the State's Attorney's advisor to the DuPage Ethics Commission, Rick Veenstra, to handle any matters pertaining to the Election Commission with the abundant political ties between Veenstra and Hage?

Why didn't Hage mention his long and close political ties with Reverse Spin when he supported keeping these political strategists at the Election Commission? Does this demonstrate that Commissioner Hage won't make future disclosures of his conflicts of interest with candidates and other issues?

Is it a double standard for Hage to expect other people not to receive generous compensation for part-time work on boards and commissions, while receiving generous compensation himself?

Of the 560,718 registered voters in DuPage County, couldn't Cronin have appointed someone more...normal?