Monday, February 20, 2006

Topinka at Bat, KJ on Deck: Ethical Pay to Play?

Jeff Berkowitz: Judy, don’t you have a role, as [State] Treasurer, in the [state] pension boards? And, didn’t Bob Kjellander place some folks close to the pension boards and, it is purported, he got three to four million dollars for doing that. So, don’t you have a problem with Bob Kjellander-- with what he did with the pension boards?

Judy Baar Topinka: Right now, Bob Kjellander [RNC Illinois Committeeman and buddy of Karl Rove] has done nothing that is illegal, according to the law. That is why you have to... ************************************************
Judy Baar Topinka: I think the boys had enough time to beat up on me behind my back [Topinka had not joined, initially, the press conference that immediately followed today’s WBEZ 91.5 FM Radio, Chicago Public Radio debate among the Republican Gubernatorial candidates; the other four candidates [Jim Oberweis,Sen. Brady, Ron Gidwitz and Andy Martin] had a collective press conference for about 10 minutes and then broke while asking for, demanding and waiting for Topinka to join them, which she did about twenty minutes after the debate concluded], so I figured I would come out here and we agreed right from the beginning that I would be answering questions with the media, but I think we’ve already had the debate. And, that is what is involved, so if you have any questions, I would be happy to answer any.

NBC-5 News’ Dick Kay: One thing that we are curious about is obviously you released your ethics reform proposals yesterday. All of them [the other candidates] disagree with you. Ron Gidwitz has called you a hypocrite, saying you have been taking money from banking interests for 12 years, and suddenly you are Judy come lately and you want to stop doing what you have been doing for 12 years.

Topinka: Hardly. For 12 years, we have bid all of our projects. Everything is publicly bid, so that we get the lowest possible price and the best possible value which I think even if we take this up to the Governor’s office—Now you are getting some value for your dollar. You don’t have no bid contracts. You are not hiding anything. Everything has been put forward… They have got to say something. When Ron [Gidwitz] has paid $6000 to a bunch of fancy handlers, and he can’t move his numbers, he has got to come at me. The same with Jim [Oberweis]. They are not moving. They’ve got to go after me. I am the front runner. I expect to get all sorts of abuse.

Dick Kay: But, taking money from banking interests, whether they are bid or not, the previous Treasurer [Democrat and now Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn] didn’t.

Topinka: We’ve taken money from banking interests. Some have gotten business with us, some have not. Some have given me money and lost business. So, it’s really been a very open process. As long as we’ve publicly bid everything, I think we cover all the bases.

Jeff Berkowitz: Judy, if you have change orders, if you have what’s called lowest responsible bidders—as you know, simply having competitive bidding doesn’t take the conflict out of the process. What’s your response to that?

Topinka: And, in case there is just any, any question, we are just not going to take any money from them. But, again, it has been a very open process and again, I think it is what you in the press are looking for to see how we do business, who[m] we do business with and when you look at my ethics reform package…I think they ought to…endorse it because it does the job.

Dick Kay: Judy, are banks bidding on contracts. Are banks submitting proposals? Or, are [they] simply talking about interest rates and things like that. I didn’t know that in professional services that they had to bid contracts.

Topinka: …They bid on our business outright. You are talking about artistic and professional services which is a completely different thing.

Dick Kay: Banks are not professional services, financial counsel?

Topinka: They just bid outright as businesses. There you have a public bidding process. Where you get into artistic services, you are talking about someone who is doing an artwork for the state. They might be unique and that’s why there is always a little loosening in that area. But, we are trying to tighten that up, as well.
CBS-2 News' Mike Flannery: Judy, how would you handle the—the generically, not just for Party persons, but these so called finders’ fees. You know, the teachers retirement fund.

Topinka: There should be no finders fees. There is no need for anyone to have a lobbyist to walk them through the door. Bob Kjellander has come into our office once, lobbying for business. And it was basically business that had been there before I got there. And, they lost the business because they did not give an appropriate bid. Again, the bidding process makes it happen. So, he is zero for zero in our office.

Jeff Berkowitz: Judy, don’t you have a role, as [State] Treasurer, in the [state] pension boards? And, didn’t Bob Kjellander place some folks close to the pension boards and, it is purported, he got three to four million dollars for doing that. So, don’t you have a problem with Bob Kjellander-- with what he did with the pension boards?

Topinka: Right now, Bob Kjellander has done nothing that is illegal, according to the law. That is why you have to change the law to get at this and make sure not only Bob Kjellander is covered but all others now and in the future.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, has he [Bob Kjellander, Illinois’ National Republican Committeeman] done something unethical, because there is a difference sometimes between ethics and the law.

Topinka: I think there is the perception that is a problem. It becomes a distraction. And, as a result I think that our ethics package takes care of that, but it is and foremost a distraction.

Jeff Berkowitz: Did he do something unethical? Kjellander?

Topinka: Look, he is in compliance with the law. He has not been charged with anything?

Dick Kay: Aren’t his records on this deal, though, a part of a federal investigation? Aren’t these—investigation into the teachers’ pension fund and the way that was handled. Isn’t that a part of the federal investigation?

Topinka: I don’t know. If they’ve called him in, they’ve called him in. I don’t talk to Mr. Kjellander on a regular basis. I don’t know what he is doing. He is not involved in my campaign. He has not been involved in my campaign. He gives me no advice. Nor does he make recommendations. I think we take care of it in our ethics thing. I am going to take one more question and then I have to go.

Berkowitz: Do you have trouble with the—

Topinka: No, I am going to take one more question.

Kay: Some of your critics have said, $25,000, come on, why don’t you just ban campaign contributions from state contractors, period?

Topinka: I would like to but unfortunately I am not a millionaire. And, to stay competitive and to allow normal, everyday, middle class people to be able to participate in the political process, to be able to do what I am doing-running for political office, when I am running against gentlemen who have a lot more money than I will ever have in my whole life. would take a far greater way of dealing with this…I have to be able to compete.

Kay: And, that means taking money from state contractors?

Topinka: As long as we are talking $25,000 or more [I won’t take it]. I think you have to have a floor.

Kay: Have you taken it currently [from contractors] with more than $25,000 in state business.

Topinka: I would have to look. I would have to look. Because I don’t keep track of that. All right, I think I have answered all the questions I am going to answer; we have had the debate.

Jeff Berkowitz: Are you troubled by the $809,000 fee that Bob Kjellander received [from Bear Stearns]?

Judy Baar Topinka: Topinka gets up and leaves the press conference. Eric Robinson [Communications Director for Topinka] says: Thank you. Thank you.

Jim Oberweis, who had been sitting throughout the debate and press conference to Judy Baar Topinka’s literal right : I think that is a no [from Judy].
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at