Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Illinois AG's slow-motion probe

Is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan taking a dive for one of the Democratic Party's biggest sources of campaign cash? That's quite a charge, for sure. But let's look at the raw facts:

* Madigan, a Democrat, has been investigating International Profit Associates, a business consulting firm based in the suburbs, since sometime in 2003. Some wars are waged and completed in less than four years.

* There are 175 complaints against IPA on file in the AG's office.

* The Better Business Bureau has 425 complaints on file against IPA and says the company has an "unsatisfactory record."

* State AG offices across the country have complaints on file against IPA, which telemarkets and consults nationwide.

* In the last decade, IPA has been sued more than 125 times by disgruntled ex-employees and businesses.

* Madigan took $20,750 in contributions from IPA, including use of IPA headquarters in Buffalo Grove, IL., for phone banks during her successful run for Attorney General in 2002. She refuses to return the money even though heavily investigated Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has returned nearly $200,000 in IPA contributions as have the previous and current AGs of Wisconsin and New York, respectively. It makes you wonder why New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo distances himself from IPA money even though he's not investigating IPA and Madigan feels it is proper to keep the money while conducting an open (and lengthy) investigation.

* Those same IPA headquarters were used for phone banking by John Kerry in 2004 and unsuccessful Chicago area congressional candidate Dan Seals in 2006.

* IPA and its top executives have contributed nearly $1 million to state and federal politicians during the last decade. Nearly 90 percent went to Democrats, including $150,000 to Hillary Clinton, $86,000 to the Democratic National Senatorial Committee, and $23,700 to Melissa Bean, the current congresswoman whose represents the district where IPA resides.

* The conduit for much of the money appears to be Democratic fundraiser/lawyer Myron "Mike" Cherry, who has very helpful to a large number of Democrats, including Madigan, who received $8,000 from Cherry. IPA's longtime lawyer: Cherry.

* Besides the fraud complaints, the company is being sued by the federal government in the "most egregious" sexual harassment case ever filed by the Chicago office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Madigan's office has said publicly that it won't return the money from IPA because it was collected before her investigation of IPA occurred. While that is true, had her staff checked on IPA it would have found the pending sexual harassment case in 2002 and might have noticed that previous Attorney General Jim Ryan had sued IPA in a 1999 case that resulted in a settlement. In other words, this company has been surrounded by smoke for a long time. Most AGs return campaign contributions from firms they are investigating—regardless of when the money was collected.

Her refusal to return the money is giving her investigation the taint of a whitewash. IPA is a very large company (1,800 employees) that is interacting with small businesses across the country every day. When she became Attorney General five years ago, Madigan said she would be a national leader on consumer fraud matters. She has her chance with IPA. It's been four years and counting. An aggressive AG probably would have filed a multi-state lawsuit by now. A person might wonder whether Madigan would be so docile if IPA was heavily entwined with the Republican Party instead of the Democrats.

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