Despite Governor Quinn’s claims that his controversial $55 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) did not distribute any funds until well after the last gubernatorial election, e-mails obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times indicate his administration did in fact attempt to distribute large amounts of taxpayer dollars just three weeks before the November 2010 election.
The revelation is the latest to emerge as several investigations in to the failed program continue. A scathing audit of Governor Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) released in February has so far given rise to federal and state criminal investigations and an ongoing investigation by the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission, which has scheduled a meeting July 16.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Better Government Association has reported new instances of funds being channeled to politically connected individuals and groups, including a grant of more than $466,000 to an organization tied to a strong political supporter of the Governor. The group paid teens and young adults $8.50 an hour to pass out anti-violence literature at public events.
Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland reported to the Legislative Audit Commission panel that Quinn’s anti-violence program transferred funds from appropriated to non-appropriated funds—giving the program unlawful authority to use the funds “without regard to any fiscal year limitations”, which would ultimately negate the General Assembly’s constitutional power to control appropriations.
Additionally, the Governor denied any knowledge of how these funds were appropriated—appearing before a number of media outlets and also insisting that no funds were distributed prior to the election. However, that claim has been undermined by evidence that the administration was working overtime to get money distributed as quickly as possible to selected groups. The latest emails provided more evidence that administration officials wanted to get grant funds into the hands of recipients prior to the election.
Under the pretense that the Governor’s program would be used to alleviate violence in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, Auditors found it was “hastily implemented” and funding commitments were confirmed prior to the election. Though no money was actually expended due to “insufficient funds”, as reported in several e-mails between Barbara Shaw, head of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority (IVPA), and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) Director Malcolm Weems, the intention to use these funds for political gain warrants further investigation.
Nearly $19 million was requested to be released to the program on October 10, 2010 by Shaw. However, in one of her final e-mails to GOMB Director Weems she confirmed that the $19 million voucher needed to be cancelled because there were “insufficient funds” available to make the full payment.
These e-mails certainly question the validity of his “anti-violence” initiative and strengthen the argument that it was used as a “political slush fund” prior to the election.