‘Ask not…’ and receive not, in DuPage County

Hard to say what the best political speech or sound bite has been over the years.

Some members of “The Greatest Generation” might remember the proud defiance of Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill as the Battle of Britain commenced:

Others may be stirred by the selfless “New Frontier” patriotism of President John F. Kennedy:

Locally, west suburban residents might have been moved by the eloquence this past autumn of DuPage County Forest Preserve Commissioner Joseph Cantore, who, in response to what he regarded as misleading accusations by campaign opponents, orated:

“In this era of everyone dancing around issues and being whining crybabies afraid to aggravate anyone, I would like to say this: If you don’t like what I’m saying, too bad. Because I’ve had it with liars, opportunists, backstabbers, and BS artists.”

Almost brings a tear to your eye it’s so beautiful.

We bring up Cantore’s remarks not just to poke fun—they were made in the heat of the November election, which had gotten a little testy, and he’s one of those folks known to speak bluntly—but to call attention to something else he brought up.

Cantore, a Republican who ended up winning his race, also defended campaign contributions given to him and other commissioner candidates by the law firm of the agency’s long-time attorney, Robert Mork. According to just-released meeting minutes from the Nov. 2 board meeting, Cantore said:

“First, there is nothing unethical or illegal about a donation from Mr. Mork to any of us. Mr. Mork is free to donate to whomever he wishes. Last time I looked, the long list of rights certain members of another political party have done their best to take from us hasn’t gotten to who you can and cannot give donations to, although they do their best and are blatantly hypocritical about it. By that logic, I shouldn’t give any County Board members a campaign donation who I believe in and are doing a good job (and vice a versa). Is that a conflict of interest? How about a full time district employee giving a donation because they believe in the job we’re doing and happen to be a friend? Another conflict?”

Without taking sides between Democrats and Republicans—the BGA is non-partisan—we do feel confident in saying this: Wow.

It’s true there’s nothing illegal about taking campaign cash from taxpayer-funded employees you oversee—whether they’re lawyers or maintenance guys. But the ethics of it is a totally different matter. It’s a pretty clear potential conflict of interest—if not on the giving end, certainly on the receiving end. Why? Well, because as a forest preserve commissioner, you help control the destiny (and, perhaps, the wages) of agency employees and contractors.

Can you do that objectively and fairly if they’re coughing up $50 or $500 or $1,000 to your campaign fund?

Maybe if you’re a respected ethicist and statesman, like Sir Thomas More, but for most of us, this could present an ethical dilemma.

We’re not trying to be whining crybabies, but there’s an easy solution:

The district—a governmental body overseeing a multi-million-dollar budget, hundreds of employees and more than 25,000 acres—should implement a policy barring these types of donations.

This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at rherguth@bettergov.org.

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2 Comments

Filed under Commentary

2 responses to “‘Ask not…’ and receive not, in DuPage County

  1. Hilary Denk

    The BGA calls for reform. Now is the time for reform of all local government that thinks it’s ok to take campaign money from the people they employ or choose for government contracts. A conflict of interest – you betcha! A breach of ethics – a no brainer. We need to start somewhere with campaign finance reform, why not local government and work our way up?

  2. markg8

    Keep up the good work. DuPage County Republicans are so blatant about their pay to play, backscratching and self dealing it’s ridiculous.

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