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DuPage Dems blast GOP for taking cash from local businesses
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/22/2008 2:58 PM

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Democratic candidates seeking DuPage County Board seats blasted their Republican counterparts for accepting campaign contributions from companies that do business with the county.

At a morning news conference outside the government center in Wheaton on Tuesday, five of the candidates said they would fight for legislation to ban that practice if elected in November.

"What we're talking about here is decision-makers taking money from companies doing business with the county, then turning around and handing them big, fat county contracts," said District 1 candidate Rifat Sivisoglu of Elmhurst. "You could never get away with that in a corporate environment."

Some county board members -- all of whom are Republican -- said they are careful who they take campaign contributions from to steer clear of appearances of impropriety.

"I've sent some money back," said District 6 board member Pam Rion of Bloomingdale. "Businesses that I have accepted contributions from are from personal relationships I had with people before I ever got on the board."

Some argue that businesses should be allowed to contribute to campaigns to show support for candidates since businesses don't get a vote. Some board members also said they would support limiting the amount county vendors can contribute to campaigns.

"I'd be more than happy to do that," said District 4 board member J.R. McBride of Glen Ellyn. "We should have no undue influence. We've had that argument in the past and I've been supportive of what is done at the federal level and cap it."

The primary target of the Democratic candidates' vitriol was Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom who was neither at Tuesday's board meeting nor up for re-election in November. He could not be reached for comment.

"The county operates under a stringent procurement and ethics policy," said Jason Gerwig, the board's spokesman. "All nonprofessional service contracts are subject to a thorough review by a procurement committee, parent committees and the county board."

District 3 Democratic candidate Bob Brandt of Woodridge attacked Schillerstrom's campaign finance records that showed donations from companies that have received multi-million-dollar contracts over the years.

"I randomly picked four companies that made campaign contributions to DuPage County Chairman Robert Schillerstrom and checked county records to see if those companies had contracts with the county," he said. "Sure enough, they all did."

District 5 board member James Healy of Naperville said limitations on business contributions or a complete ban would have little impact on his campaign coffers. He said he's supported such initiatives in the past, but those measures were always bogged down by legal minutiae.

"I understand people's concerns," he said. "There is the appearance of something, so there should be limits."