Editorial: Governor’s credibility takes another hit

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

When Gov. Rod Blagojevich wanted to generate support for some of his ideas on the state budget this year, his administration mobilized a public relations effort using state employees to get the message out.

The Associated Press learned of the campaign in April, and requested the names of those contacted and copies of their responses. It submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to a dozen state agencies. This week it received its answer: The Department of Human Services released four responses bearing the title, “I Support Governor Blagojevich’s Plan to Jump-Start the Economy and Protect Illinois Families.”

But if you think that means there is no support for the governor’s budget plans, you are wrong. Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the administration had received some 1,500 forms endorsing the governor’s budget, which contained ideas ranging from a $300-per child tax credit to a capital construction program now known as Illinois Works. Because the respondents did not specify that the responses could be made public, however, they would not be released, Ottenhoff said.

Sometimes it seems this administration goes out of its way to whip up public mistrust. 

There's no gray area here. State law requires that public documents containing personal information be released with the personal data blacked out. If state employees using state property sent out the solicitations, there should be no question that returned forms are public documents.

Instead, we have the governor’s office telling us there is widespread support for the governor’s ideas but that evidence of that support — evidence gathered using our tax dollars — is top secret.

This is hardly new territory for this administration.

Blagojevich has regularly used state employees as his own public relations army for his pet projects. We strongly disagree with this practice because we believe it is a misuse of state resources and also because it often puts undue and inappropriate pressure on those solicited to get involved in political issues. 

Last year the governor did the same thing to promote his Illinois Covered insurance plan, which was to have been funded by the ultimately doomed gross receipts tax.

“Show your support for the Governor’s plan by completing an endorsement form and writing a letter to your local legislator,” read an e-mail sent to dozens of agencies that received state funds for their work with drug or alcohol addicts or the disabled. Some of those agencies, which strive to be non-political, felt that the letter put them in awkward position — support the gross receipts tax or risk your state grant. 

In 2005, the administration asked some 400 parole officers to hand out letters written by Blagojevich to job centers, churches and other community organizations to tout the governor’s record on fighting crime.

“We have worked hard to make neighborhoods safe and keep criminals off our streets,” Blagojevich said in the letters. “This year, I am proud to say, we signed several important pieces of legislation to keep our communities even safer.”

At this point, “surprise” is not necessarily something we ever apply to this administration’s actions. So we’re not exactly surprised that the administration believes it can launch a PR campaign with public funds and then withhold the results.

Yet we are mildly taken aback that, considering that the governor’s trustworthiness is the main topic of this year’s budget negotiations, the administration can find a way to make things even worse for itself.

State Journal-Register