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Records show Blagojevich still taking donations
Associated Press
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Published: 7/24/2008 12:05 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - While Illinois legislators took action against the state's "pay to play" reputation, Gov. Rod Blagojevich took donation after donation from people who stood to gain financially from his administration.

During the first half of the year, Blagojevich accepted tens of thousands of dollars from people and businesses who had contracts worth at least $50,000 with state agencies - a practice that would be banned by legislation awaiting either his signature or veto.

In a review of new campaign finance records, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found that $238,000 of the Democratic governor's donations this year would be barred under the legislation on his desk. That's about $1 in every $5 that Blagojevich raised from sources other than political action committees.

For instance, a business called Entran gave Blagojevich $13,750. It has about $1.5 million worth of contracts with the Illinois Department of Transportation. Lin Engineering, with about $675,000 in IDOT contracts, gave him $8,500.

"There's a lot of money here that he wouldn't be allowed to take if that became law," said David Morrison, assistant director of the Campaign for Political Reform.

The Daily Herald reported in March that 73 percent of more than $1.5 million Blagojevich raised in the last half of 2007 came from state contractors, lobbyists and those relying on the state for regulatory approval.

Under the legislation on the governor's desk, as much as 55 percent of the governor's $1.5 million raised late last year would have been banned.

Blagojevich has raised huge amounts of money since launching his first campaign for governor in 2001. Often, the checks were for $10,000, $50,000, even $100,000.

Although he promised to change from the way his predecessor, Republican George Ryan, did business, Blagojevich took money from people and companies that later wound up with state contracts.

Ryan is now in prison, thanks in part to illegally mingling political activity with government business. Meanwhile, all other statewide officials, along with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, have voluntarily stopped taking money from government contractors.

They argued the practice created the perception that Illinois ran on a "pay to play" policy - that is, people had to donate money to decision-makers before they could take part in government activities.

Earlier this year, Illinois legislators voted unanimously to impose the state's first major restriction on money politicians can accept. It would bar anyone with a state contract worth $50,000 or more from contributing to the officeholder who awarded the contract, or in the case of existing contracts, to that officeholder's opponent in an election year.

Blagojevich has suggested that he will use his veto powers to rewrite the measure and send it back to lawmakers.

His aides wouldn't answer questions about the legislation, beyond saying that it doesn't go far enough.

"We are disappointed that legislators didn't take advantage of the opportunity to pass real and comprehensive ethics reform," spokesman Brian Williamsen said.

Comptroller Dan Hynes accused Blagojevich of "hypocrisy" on the subject, arguing that even if Blagojevich truly wanted to improve the legislation, he could voluntarily stop accepting contractors' donations.

Instead, Hynes said, it appears that Blagojevich wants to amend the ethics legislation and send it back to lawmakers in hopes that the revised version will die.

"I don't think the governor is at all sincere in saying he wants to go further. They've spent the last three years trying to stop reform," Hynes said.

The Senate sponsor, Democrat Don Harmon of Oak Park, said he still holds out hope that Blagojevich is sincere about improving the legislation. But he acknowledged he's had no conversations with the governor's office about changes that could strengthen the measure without killing it.