Politicians get rich at taxpayer expense
By Jeff Ward firstname.lastname@example.org November 18, 2011 12:08PM
Updated: December 21, 2011 8:11AM
It isn’t often that “60 Minutes” pays a visit to this Illinois political backwater. And with senior correspondent Steve Kroft no less! Had it been Scott Pelley, we’d all have hung our heads in shame at the thought of having to endure all those Chicago Democratic machine sneers, taunts and giggles.
Because when it comes to political graft, corruption and insider trading, there’s first place and there’s no place. I keep trying to tell you all that Cook ain’t got nothin’ on Kane and Kendall counties, and what better proves that point more than a Sunday 6 p.m. CBS-TV news show segment.
In a piece titled “Insiders,” Kroft juxtaposed the fact that, while Martha Stewart goes to jail for insider trading, if our staunchest elected defenders of the faith do the same thing, they get rich.
For example, as Congress was debating national health care, House Speaker John Boehner was investing heavily in health insurance stocks. And when Kroft and his cameraman tried to talk to some of these congressmen, you ain’t never seen middle-aged white men run quite so fast.
Why, when he questioned Nancy Pelosi about the hefty profit reaped from her Visa IPO shares — a profit that came while the House was killing major credit card legislation — she got so indignant she almost blinked.
Ah! But the former speaker we’re really concerned with — and the reason for Kroft’s local visit — is none other than Kendall County’s Denny Hastert. You see, our “aw, shucks” high school wrestling coach went into politics worth about $200,000 and came out with as much as $8 million in the bank.
And as “60 Minutes” explained, $2 million of that wealth came after selling some Plano-area farmland that quickly appreciated in value after he inserted $207 million in earmarks into a 2005 transportation bill covering the Prairie Parkway. The Prairie Parkway is the proposed Kane-Kendall highway corridor linking I-88 to I-80.
Hastert, who seems to believe we’re all country bumpkins, swears that profit was merely incidental and had nothing to do with the impending interstate. And the irony is, while what he did may be morally questionable, it wasn’t illegal.
Kroft also noted that for most of his career, former six-term Washington Congressman Brian Baird tried to pass the “Stock Act,” which would put an end this insidious form of insider trading. But As Baird put it, the bill “just flat died.”
Meanwhile, the former speaker, who made a name denouncing “wasteful government spending,” enjoys the kind of post-political perks the rest of us can only press our face up against the plate-glass window and drool over.
Since quitting in early 2007, Hastert has enjoyed a government-funded business office costing taxpayers $6,300 a month in rent, employed three staffers at $100,000 a year each, and leased an $860-a-month SUV. When this benefit finally expires in 2012, it will have cost us a cool $2.5 million.
Though it’s all perfectly legal (once again), Hastert was under no obligation to avail himself of any of it. Public service? Yeah! I’d say the public has been “serviced” by Mr. Hastert.
And just how does the former speaker repay us for our largesse? After claiming, “I don’t really see myself as a lobbyist and would probably not do that at all,” that’s exactly what he’s doing. As we speak, he’s lobbying on behalf of private corporations and foreign governments.
But all is not lost. We can send him a message. And the first step is to tell Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and your congressman that you want them to pass the Stock Act.
Then, for something like the Prairie Parkway to succeed, Hastert has to have the backing of local politicians. To ensure that kind of support, he and Yorkville attorney Dallas Ingemunson have a nasty habit of instigating candidacies “sympathetic” to their “cause.”
That long list of politicians includes Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, 33rd District state Senate candidate and current Kane County Chairman Karen McConnaughay, 49th District state Rep. Tim Schmitz, 50th District state Rep. Kay Hatcher, Kane Court Clerk candidate and current County Board member Cathy Hurlbut and Kane board member Mike Kenyon.
Please note: this list does not include Elburn village Trustee Ethan Hastert, for whom I still harbor some very high hopes. Don’t laugh! It can happen. Richie Daley was a much better mayor than his old man.
Due to 2010 redistricting, the fate of every last one of those politicians lies in the hands of voters. So if you want to express your dismay over the former speaker enriching himself at our expense, I cant’ think of a better way than by voting for folks that don’t owe him a darn thing.
Jeff Ward can be reached at email@example.com.