Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blagojevich's final hustle?

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is pushing hard for public funding of Wrigley Field renovation. It may be his most brazen hustle yet.

As we all know, Blagojevich is on Disneyworld boat ride toward a corruption indictment—he can't get off and we all know where the boat lands. His once vaunted (and illegal) campaign money raising operation is finally starting to sputter and his legal bills are rising. In the last six months of reporting available, 39.7 cents of every dollar he raised went to Winston & Strawn, the downtown law firm headed by former Governor Jim Thompson. Big Jim happens to head the public agency putting together the Wrigley plan.

If the trends continue, Rod will be out of money to pay his legal bills as the feds close in on him. What is the one thing that kept his campaign treasury flush over the years? Promises of high returns for investors. What does the Wrigley Field public financing plan include? About $350 million in bonding and plenty of legal work. In other words, lots of no-bid contracts to hand out to "investors."

Blagojevich said they are looking at "creative ways" for a Wrigley deal that doesn't use taxpayer dollars. He compared it to the refurbishment of Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox play.

"My position's very simple: Cubs play at Wrigley Field, new owner has to keep the Cubs at Wrigley Field, no taxpayer dollars," Blagojevich said at a news conference.

It is important for the state-backed agency to get involved because Wrigley is a huge tourist draw in the state, Blagojevich said.

So Rod and Big Jim are pushing a plan that will put taxpayers on the hook for a Wrigley Field renovation that will happen anyway. And they are pushing for an outcome that will help Rod raise campaign cash to pay Big Jim's law firm.

Even by Illinois standards, the brazen-meter needle is traveling to new territory.

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