My patience has worn thin listening to Rodney Davis complain about campaign ads on his ties to convicted former Governor George Ryan. Davis claims the ads by DCCC are misleading, but Davis has never denied the basic facts: that Davis worked for George Ryan and was on Ryan’s clout list. If you look at the bigger picture, Davis’ denials smell funnier than the original ads.
Davis says the ads are false because they call George Ryan “Governor,” while Davis worked for Ryan only while he was Secretary of State. That’s irrelevant nitpicking, especially since Ryan was convicted for what he did as Secretary of State. Davis further refutes the ad by saying he was a low-level, anonymous employee who never took favors from George Ryan. He doubts that Ryan even remembered his name or knew who he was.
I decided to do a little fact-checking with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Davis donated $200 to the Ryan campaign fund in December of ’96, shortly after losing his campaign for State Representative. There was no reporting requirement for smaller donations at that time, so there may have been additional unrecorded contributions, such as low-dollar tickets to fundraisers.I tried to confirm that the donation isn’t from a relative in Taylorville with the same name but the Davis campaign isn’t very responsive to me right now. Regardless, I found something much more interesting.
Davis raised thousands in campaign contributions from managers he worked with in Ryan’s Secretary of State office.The most generous donor was Craig Roberts, who was serving as a high-ranking aid to George Ryan and would later become Chief of Staff to Congressman John Shimkus. Over the campaign, he gave a series of donations and in-kind contributions totaling over $4,700.00. That’s pretty generous for someone taking a public salary.
Others include April Cook, who contributed a series of donations and in-kind contributions coming to $579.63. She worked in the Secretary of State human resources division. Jane Vredenburgh, an executive assistant to the Secretary of State, made multiple donations adding up to $650.00, and in later years would be a major Shimkus donor as well. Deb Detmers was manager of the Indexing Department where Davis worked, finance director of the Ryan campaign fund, and later moved to the Shimkus staff. She helped Davis too, making in-kind contributions.
Judging by the items donated, it appears that management staff were helping Davis host fundraising events. One wonders how many other Secretary of State employees made smaller, unreported donations at Davis campaign events hosted by their coworkers and bosses.
All of this by itself isn’t necessarily anything sinister. It’s not unusual to raise political funds from co-workers. Davis and his donors may even have left Ryan’s office to work for Shimkus because they were bothered by corruption in the office. But, if that’s the case, then why not say so? Why the amnesia routine?
What makes it significant is the context of what was happening in the Secretary of State office under George Ryan. Employees were expected to buy campaign fundraising tickets and do political work, sometimes on state time. As one article put it: “In offices all over the state, employees came to believe that their careers, evaluations, promotions, and pay increases all depended on their ability to raise campaign contributions for their political patron, then-Secretary of State George Ryan.”
Davis donated to the Ryan campaign fund at a time when employees were pressured into doing so. In fact, the supervisor of his department, Deb Detmers, testified in court that she was pressured to meet quotas for selling fundraising tickets to employees she supervised.
Let me restate that. The supervisor of Davis’ division pressured her employees into buying fundraising tickets for the Ryan campaign fund, and she also gave significant support to the Davis campaign. Davis must have had some kind of super anti-corruption Kryptonite suit to remain untouched by everything going on around him.
Davis was a Republican precinct committeeman, active in campaigns, and a candidate for office when employees were expected to participate in the Ryan political machine, sometimes on state taxpayer time. Managers in that same political machine were helping the Davis campaign. As the DCCC ads say, that would put Davis “in the middle of it.”
- Was granted a leave of absence to run for state elected office.
- Served as a Republican precinct committeeman.
- Donated to Ryan’s campaign fund.
- Was on the clout list so Ryan would remember his name.
- Saw George Ryan at multiple political functions outside the office.
- Had Ryan managers as major campaign donors.
- Had a supervisor who pressured employees to donate to Ryan’s campaign.
An anonymous, low-level employee is someone who people appreciate for pitching in a few bucks toward office birthday parties, not someone who raises thousands of dollars from management.
Can anyone really believe that the head of a political machine like George Ryan’s was unaware that one of his employees was running for an elected position that would vote on his office’s budget, and in the process, raised thousands from his management staff?
It’s simply absurd.
Several news outlets in the district have engaged in the “both sides are doing it” cliche in regard to misleading campaign ads. The ads attacking David Gill are dishonest because they grossly mischaracterize his position on Medicare. The ads tying Davis to George Ryan are called misleading because… well… they just are because Davis said so. The reality is that Davis has a case of selective amnesia regarding his time working for Ryan.
The ads about George Ryan and Rodney Davis are not only accurate; they merely scratch the surface.
© 2012 Willinois. This article is reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.