Getting the job done - but which job? - on the campaign trail

Published: 1/20/2010 12:02 AM

With only two weeks to go before the Feb. 2 primaries, Democratic candidate for governor Pat Quinn's political schedule has been relatively bare, containing few public events to get his message to the voters.

But while Quinn the candidate has seemed to all but disappear, Quinn the governor was just about everywhere: promising funding in Brookfield, road construction in Pekin, financial assistance for a new downstate nursing facility, appointing top staff in Chicago and speaking at gatherings both large and small.

The difference between the two?

The taxpayers foot the bill for travel and any other expenses for Gov. Quinn, while his campaign coffers pay for Quinn the candidate.

Quinn's numerous public appearances on official time, instead of campaign time, are yet another example of the power of incumbency, apparently used effectively by a candidate who spent decades lobbing rocks from the outside in.

"It's a great edge," said longtime Illinois political watcher Paul Green, a Roosevelt University political professor, of Quinn's use of office during the primary. "When you're the governor, you're the governor. It's tough to draw the line. Everything is political."

Former Gov. Jim Thompson agrees.

"First of all, you're always the governor," he said. "You're always campaigning, always."

"It's a little blurry because everything a governor does from the moment he's sworn in is gubernatorial and political."

A review of the governor's campaign and official public schedules shows his handlers scheduled blatantly political events on the political docket - avoiding the use of taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes.

But it also shows far fewer events on the campaign side so far this year, despite an increasingly intense primary campaign that has dominated the headlines.

For all five workdays last week, Quinn had not one public campaign event. But he had eight public government events.

Since the start of the year, Quinn held or attended 21 events over 19 days on state time. The events ranged from signing legislation and announcing state funding for various projects to speaking at public functions.

Meanwhile, his campaign docket racked up 16 events in those same 19 days.

In all, there were six days in the last 18 that lacked any public event on taxpayer time compared to 11 days void of events on campaign time.

The ramifications go beyond what calendar the events are listed on.

At campaign events, the candidate's campaign staff must organize and prepare using precious campaign dollars. For government events, the taxpayer picks up the bills.

Quinn campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Austin said the decision on whether to classify an event as campaign or government comes down to "in some cases judgment calls."

Austin said that generally if the event has any specific political purpose, like an endorsement interview or news conference to tout an endorsement, the governor does it on campaign time.

And she pointed out that whether or not it is a campaign event has nothing to do with the tone of the event.

"People need to understand, it is very easy to call something a campaign event if it is a positive event," she said. "That is not how the lines are drawn. It is not how they can be drawn."

Austin said there were no public campaign events last week because the governor has been preparing for campaign debates this week.

Yet, Quinn's decision to give a State of the State address on the final legislative session day last week before the primary has raised eyebrows. Those speeches have become increasingly rare as governors tended to combine them with the state budget address more toward late winter.

But the budget presentation isn't until after the primary and Quinn capitalized on last week's speech to rattle off a litany of accomplishments during his first year in office, largely ignoring the state's crippling budget deficit.

"He's using it for political gain," state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, said of the timing. "But he's entitled to do so as the sitting governor."

That said, having heard Quinn's rambling, 72-minute address, Franks said he isn't so sure anymore that it was intended for political gain.

In another illustration of the blurred lines, Quinn attended the Rainbow/PUSH coalition breakfast for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a government event, along with three other similar stops Monday.

Hynes attended the Rainbow/PUSH event as well. But he went on campaign time, not state time.

Austin said there has been a long tradition of Illinois governors attending Jesse Jackson event on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, making it appropriate for Quinn to file it in the government column.

David Morrison, deputy director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, says Hynes could have just as easily claimed the Rainbow/PUSH event as state business instead of a campaign stop.

Morrison also pointed out Quinn could be at risk of attacks if he spent too much time lately under his campaign schedule.

"Then someone can blast him for spending so much time campaigning," he said.

In the end, Morrison said the real issue for voters should be whether either candidate is living up to his government title - ultimately a subjective question as well.

"What you want to see," Morrison says, "for the public interest is whether are they actually getting their job done as governor or comptroller or whatever their title is."