Sunday, September 24, 2006

Roskam: Poured from the old “Leave It to Beaver,” Eddie Haskell mold

Voters will judge these episodes from Roskam’s past

Posted Friday, September 22, 2006

Republican Peter Roskam cuts a smooth figure as he campaigns to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Hyde.

The veteran state lawmaker wants 6th Congressional District voters to send him to Washington, D.C., the planet’s capital of wheeling and dealing. Given that, there are a couple of wheeler-dealer episodes from Roskam’s past they might want to consider.

Not surprisingly, both cases involve Wauconda’s Al Salvi — Roskam’s longtime law partner, conservative confidant, and, like Roskam, a politician who sometimes comes across as poured from the old “Leave It to Beaver,” Eddie Haskell mold.

The first example involves the Sir Thomas More Justice League. Sounds like an organization of Catholic superheroes. But the justice league was a campaign fund-raising scheme devised by Salvi and Roskam in the mid-’90s to capitalize on their planned votes against limits on pain-and-suffering damages in civil lawsuits.

As their thinking went, state House members who dared vote against the measure would be cut off from typical GOP fund-raising sources. So the duo hit up fellow trial lawyers for campaign cash, telling them they wouldn’t vote for tort reform.

Problem was, they included in their sales pitch three other Republican House members, including Rep. Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines. And in Mulligan’s case, the duo did so after she told them no and blasted the fund-raising plan as “unethical.” To some, promising to vote a certain way while simultaneously soliciting campaign checks looked an awful lot like selling your vote.

In the end, Roskam bit the bullet and voted for tort reform while Salvi voted present. As a result, they had to refund some of the $70,000 that rolled in.

The other Roskam wheeler-dealer example comes courtesy of Salvi’s failed 1998 bid for secretary of state.

Roskam asked the Illinois comptroller’s office for a list of the names and addresses of more than 3,600 secretary of state employees. “I just wanted to look at the list to find out about the nature of the office,” Roskam claimed to the Chicago Tribune in 1998.

But Roskam also admitted he gave the list to the Salvi campaign, of which he was chairman. Team Salvi used the list to send numbered $50 campaign fund-raising tickets to secretary of state employees. The numbering made it easy for Salvi to track which employees ponied up and which employees didn’t. One ethics watchdog at the time blasted the move as “classic Illinois political prostitution with a twist.”

The twist being that Salvi wasn’t even the boss yet but, using the list Roskam gave him, was asking the workers for money.

As you might recall, then-Secretary of State George Ryan’s top aides also hit up their workers for campaign fund-raising tickets. Many of that crew, including Ryan himself, have been to jail, are currently in jail or are headed to jail after New Year’s Day.

I wanted to ask Roskam if he now regrets either political move, but he didn’t call me back. A campaign operative said “there was nothing worthy of an official inquiry or investigation eight years ago.”

It’ll be up to voters to decide what they think of that answer. Roskam’s opponent, Democrat Tammy Duckworth, has been raising the ethics issue, trying to tie him to scandal-plagued former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

One gets the sense those charges haven’t really stuck — I imagine not too many people in the 6th District know who DeLay is — but these Illinois-based examples could become a different story. After all, probably close to 100 percent of voters in the district are aware of the wheeler-dealer techniques Ryan employed.

While it’s a stretch to link Roskam to Ryan outright — they weren’t politically close — being viewed as a politician prone to wheeling and dealing probably isn’t a positive in this fall’s electoral climate.

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