Governor Pat Quinn’s bungled “anti-violence” program continues to draw scrutiny, as media reports revealed during the week that a federal grand jury in Chicago has issued a subpoena requesting records relating to his $54.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI).
In other action, the state’s legislative rulemaking body has unanimously deferred implementation of rules governing hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking,” in response to concerns raised by industry and environmental groups.
Federal grand jury seeking more information about controversial program
Allegations of corruption and scandal within Quinn’s NRI program once again made headlines during the week, as it became public knowledge that a subpoena of records relating to NRI has been issued by a federal grand jury based out of Chicago. A federal grand jury in Springfield has already requested NRI-related records; however, this was the first subpoena to be issued from a federal grand jury in Chicago. At this time it is unknown whether the grand juries are working together or if federal authorities have undertaken different investigations.
The Chicago-based subpoena was dated August 27, and is seeking copies of original and electronic documents, records, notes, correspondence, memos, invoices, recorded payments, and budget and personnel information relating to the program. However, it was confirmed that the requested records had already been received, or were in the process of being received, from Cook County and the subpoena was primarily a notification that the records were being requested for review by the grand jury. The Cook County State’s Attorney is conducting her own probe into the program and had possession of the records.
The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative is also being reviewed by lawmakers on the state’s Legislative Audit Commission. I am a member of this bipartisan, bicameral Commission, which undertook a review of the program following a scathing audit issued by Auditor General William Holland in February. However, public testimony from seven subpoenaed top Quinn aides involved in the program has been delayed at the request of federal authorities, who asked the Commission to give a federal grand jury time to investigate. Federal prosecutors have said the audit commission can resume its work in mid-October.
Recently, Audit Commission co-chair Senator Jason Barickman of Bloomington asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office to help enforce a previously issued subpoena of e-mails from a former top Quinn Administration official. The governor’s office has claimed attorney-client privilege and refused to release a large bloc of 108,000 e-mails belonging to former Quinn deputy chief of staff Toni Irving, who was one of the anti-violence program’s main gatekeepers in the governor’s office.
Senator Barickman asked for the Attorney General’s help in freeing up those documents that were originally subpoenaed by the panel two months ago. Although federal prosecutors requested that the Audit Commission refrain from compelling former Quinn Administration officials to testify, they gave a green light to the Commission seeking documents related to the botched program.
Republican lawmakers have also taken Governor Quinn to task for evidence that his administration has simply rebranded the failed NRI program and continues to dish out taxpayer dollars in a manner that looks suspiciously similar to how NRI dollars were first distributed.
At issue is a $20 million lump sum Governor Quinn hid in the current state budget, with only a vague description that the money would be used by the agency for purposes almost identical to those that described the original NRI program. In July – just weeks after the budget was approved – $5 million was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and $6.5 million to the Department of Human Services.
Work continues on hydraulic fracturing rules
Hydraulic fracturing was lawmakers’ focus at a September 16 meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR). In response to compelling concerns brought forward by industry and environmental groups, the members of the committee were united in their decision to hold off on implementation of hydraulic fracturing rules.
JCAR received proposed fracking rules from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on August 29. However, on September 16, JCAR representatives expressed concerns that those rules exceed the intended scope of the law. The members of the committee asked DNR representatives to revisit the rules, working with lawmakers and stakeholders to ensure the rules comply with the intent of the 2013 hydraulic fracturing legislation.
JCAR is scheduled to meet again on October 14, though it is still unclear if the rules will be finalized at that time.