Friday, September 30, 2005

Fitzgerald endorses Rauschenberger: Stopping Public Corruption

Former U. S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald formally endorsed his old Fab 5 State Senate colleague, Steve Rauschenberger, for Governor on Monday at a Press Conference in the Chicago Loop. The Fab 5 also included current state senators Chris Lauzen [Aurora] and Dave Syverson [Rockford] and former State Senator Patrick O’Malley.

The Fab 5 were known for being a group of small businessman who ran independent of each other in 1992 but who were all embraced by then Senate President Pate Philip after they had become their party’s nominees. Calling Senator Fitzgerald a “small businessman,” might be a bit of a stretch, in light of his inherited wealth, but it was done.

The five Republican senators shook things up in the Senate, sharing a common enthusiasm for promoting economic and social conservative ideas, with a real emphasis on unleashing the forces of free enterprise from the onerous and oppressive burdens of state regulation and taxation. They also tried to stop, as Fitzgerald and Rauschenberger would put it, “insider” legislators from manipulating the levers of government for personal financial gain.

This theme of supporting Sen. Rauschenberger because of the common bond Senator Fitzgerald shared with Rauschenberger in terms of removing public corruption is something Senator Fitzgerald focused on in both the Monday morning Press Conference at the Chicago Hilton and the telephonic press conference held with media throughout the state in the afternoon.

Indeed, Senator Fitzgerald in the afternoon quoted Mayor Richard J. Daley as saying the three most important positions in Illinois are the Mayor of City of Chicago, the Governor of the State of Illinois and the U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Of course, the old Mayor Daley may have thought the U. S. Attorney position was useful to use as a shield for “defensive purposes,.” as opposed to using it offensively to reign in public corruption. Senator Fitzgerald went on to state, “the tenure of Patrick Fitzgerald and the aggressiveness of the prosecutions coming out of that office will…leave a significant mark on the State of Illinois for years to come.”

The irony to the old Mayor Daley, of course, is that U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has indicted many of the new Mayor Daley’s administration’s former employees, including a few who could reasonably be viewed as part of the new Mayor Daley’s management team. And, Senator Peter Fitzgerald had to fight Illinois pols from his own party, e.g., Speaker Hastert and Illinois pols from the “other Party,” Senator Dick Durbin to bring in not just “outsider,” Patrick Fitzgerald, but also “outsiders,” to fill the U. S. Attorney posts in the Central and Southern Districts of Illinois.

But, it is particularly U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald who has had and continues to have the greatest impact in terms of cleaning up the “culture of corruption,” in Illinois [former Governor George Ryan and his cronies now on trial and convictions of dozens of Secretary of State employees from when George was Secretary of State and perhaps various cronies of the current Governor, Rod Blagojevich and maybe even Gov. Blagojevich himself may be brought to trial before Patrick leaves town].

Given Illinois’ “no limits,” approach to campaign contributions, it is a bit surprising that Senator Fitzgerald, who spent about 15 million dollars of his considerable personal wealth to send himself to the U. S. Senate, has never given more than $5,000 to any one candidate, and he has followed that pattern, so far, by donating only $5,000 to Guv candidate Steve Rauschenberger. However, Fitzgerald is trying to help financially by authorizing Team Rauschenberger to recruit from Senator Fitzgerald’s Finance Committee with his blessing. Further, Senator Fitzgerald is sharing his “house file for direct mail fundraising,” with Team Rauschenberger.”

In addition to the above efforts to help Steve line up Senator Fitzgerald’s wealthy supporters for campaign contributions, it is expected that Senator Fitzgerald’s endorsement will be featured in Rauschenberger’s direct mail and in a television and radio ad or two.

Although certain media, e.g., NBC5 News’ Dick Kay, and Rauschenberger’s competitors may question the impact of Fitzgerald’s endorsement by pointing out Senator Fitzgerald now resides in Virginia [his Inverness house is “under contract], Peter Fitzgerald continues to be a conservative icon in Illinois. Indeed, Fitzgerald has broad based support within and outside the Republican Party, due to his willingness often to take “good government, maverick positions,” within his own party. Indeed, one such maverick action was Senator Peter Fitzgerald’s successful fight to install the independent New Yorker, Patrick Fitzgerald, as the U. S. Attorney.

Moreover, as the Chicago Tribune’s multi-talented columnist and blogger Eric Zorn notes [see here], the George Ryan trial could turn out to be all about protecting the taxpayer. Fitzgerald argued Monday that Rauschenberger was all about protecting the taxpayer and he was “the guy who was thrown out of the Executive mansion by Governor George Ryan because Steve was fighting Gov. Ryan on a variety of issues including his spending.”

So, while the backdrop of the George Ryan trial could hurt some Republicans who were politically cozy with George, Peter Fitzgerald thought the George Ryan trial publicity could help Steve’s campaign. As I have argued, Steve may be perceived, happily, by voters as the anti-Ryan, especially if he uses a snapshot of being drop kicked out of the mansion by George Ryan as a campaign mailer.
Senator Peter Fitzgerald: …It is a sad day for the State of Illinois to have a former Governor [George Ryan] on trial for corruption. I guess we had it not too long ago with Otto Kerner on trial and before that, we had it in the 20s with a Governor named Glenn Small. But, hopefully, we can put all of those days of corruption behind us and get good people like Steve Rauschenberger in [office] in the future.

Jeff Berkowitz: You talked about the fundraising and financial support for Senator Rauschenberger. Unlike Senator Rauschenberger, you have considerable personal wealth. How much of that are you prepared to use to remedy some of those [financial] difficulties for Senator Rauschenberger? The potential is virtually unlimited in Illinois. You could write a check [to Senator Rauschenberger] for two million dollars, today.

Senator Fitzgerald: Steve keeps reminding me of that. Thus far, I have given him five thousand dollars. But, the money will be there for Steve. There are a lot of people who will contribute to him. And, he will be able to raise money from people who just want a good economic climate in the state of Illinois for their businesses and their families and their communities and their schools. He will not be the type to be getting $100,000 or $200,000 from some state contractor. That’s where most of Governor Blagojevich’s money comes from. People who want a specific state contract… And, also, my guess is… Steve won’t need as much money because I expect Steve will do very well with the editorial board endorsements. When he ran for the U. S. Senate to succeed me, virtually every newspaper in the State endorsed Steve because they knew his knowledge and his qualifications were unmatched.

Berkowitz: Senator Rauschenberger has said, “We don’t need more ethics legislation, we need more ethical politicians.” Do you agree with that? Would you oppose any limits on campaign contributions or campaign finance reform for Illinois?

Senator Fitzgerald: Well, Steve is right to a certain extent. You almost can’t legislate good, honest people. There are so many different ways in which a legislator can work for his own interests and against the interests of constituents that you would never figure [them all] out. If I can tell a real quick story… the first bill I was asked to introduce. Steve remembers this. Steve and I took a similar approach to legislation…
Excerpt of the Press Conference held on Monday, Sep. 26 at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago by former U. S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald to formally announce his endorsement of State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger [R-Elgin] for the Republican Gubernatorial Nomination
Jeff Berkowitz: Is there a difference between you and Senator Rauschenberger on campaign finance reform? Are you more tolerant of some limits than Senator Rauschenberger appears to be?

Senator Fitzgerald: You know I have never talked to Steve about that, so I don’t know.

Berkowitz: What are your own views on campaign finance reform?

Senator Fitzgerald: Well, I voted for campaign finance reform in Washington. I voted for the McCain Feingold [legislation]. I do think that unlimited amounts of contributions to candidates are not good.
Informal question and answer session held after the above referenced Press Conference, Sep. 26, 2005