Have a question for the Better Government Association?
Ask it now at windycitizen.com. Throughout Tuesday, questions posted there will be answered by the BGA's investigative staff.
For instance, someone has already asked, "So where were you guys when Blagojevich was on his 'political crime spree'? How'd you guys let that one slip passed you?
Editor of investigations Robert Herguth responded, "We didn't let him just slip on by. The BGA had Blago on our radar well before he was charged and booted from office. We went to court to force him, while he still was governor, to release subpoenas issued by the feds. Albeit later on, the BGA also teamed up with the Sun-Times in examining campaign contributions made to Blago by companies that did business on the massive Dan Ryan Expy. project. And, not to brag, but yours truly, along with Chris Fusco at the Sun-Times, were among the first reporters to start road-mapping Blago pal Chris Kelly and his nefarious influence on state government. We connected a lot of dots that ended up, I think, informing the public who still were of the mindset that Blago was some kind of reformer. . . . Of course, all this being said, now knowing the scope of all that went on, I wish we would have done more."
This response struck me as helpful but less than completely candid. Herguth, formerly of the Sun-Times, only joined the BGA last July. CEO Andy Shaw came on as executive director 13 months earlier to shake the cobwebs off the organization and make it matter again. That he's done. So where was the BGA. It was in the doldrums.
I emailed Herguth and asked about this. "Those were different times at the organization," he allowed. "We were leaner staff wise, and our investigations weren't as numerous. So, it's probably fair to say that, had the current team been in place, we would have done more." And he added, "Blago's conduct was so outrageous, more Illinoisans I think realized the relevance of the BGA, that it's important to have an organization committed to exposing bad government and proposing good government. We're trying to live up to the confidence our members and donors have placed in us."
So give Rod Blagojevich this — he did his bit to make the BGA matter again. And thanks go to Herguth for answering questions about his answers to the questions that are still being asked at Windycitizen. You might want in on the action.
UPDATE: Andy Shaw adds this:
"No one at the BGA today was here when Blago was governor. We all had other jobs and, in fact, many of us covered him in one way or another as journalists. I covered him extensively at ABC 7, and we reported on "pay-to-play" allegations and virtually everything else that ended up in the government's case. But we didn't have evidence—-just anecdotes from inside sources. I think, however, that at the end of the day the biggest insulation he had wasn't a dormant BGA—-it was $50 million in campaign cash raised over eight years to buy media ads and campaign infrastructure, much of it used to burnish his reputation, glorify his causes and trash his opponents. It worked until the feds got the evidence through informants and wiretaps. We're much stronger and more capable today but still no match for a fund-raising juggernaut unchecked by the power of the feds."