FEBRUARY 28, 2011
President Obama’s former chief of staff hasn’t even been sworn in as Chicago mayor and already his administration has been tainted by a major scandal involving the illegal use of public resources to conduct political business.The co-chair of mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s campaign, also a top member of his transition team, quit abruptly after the local media revealed that she engaged in“prohibited political activity” as a high-level state employee to help none other than Obama get elected in 2008. As the director of Illinois’ Board of Higher Education, Judy Erwin used her state-issued cell phone, electronic mail account and other public resources to work on Obama’s presidential campaign.Erwin, also a former Illinois lawmaker, served on Obama’s Education Policy Committee while she headed the state agency, used staff resources to plan her trip to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and engaged in political campaign fundraising activities on taxpayer time, according to the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission. Made public earlier this month, the panel’s ruling blasts Erwin for intentionally misappropriating state property and resources.Erwin was fined $4,000, got booted from her high-level public job last August and agreed never to seek state employment in the future. She claims it was a careless mistake and that she had become “accustomed to using administrative assistants in the private sector in a way that is not permitted in the public sector.”The ethics committee didn’t buy it, countering that, as a high-level state official, Erwin should have known better because she was “sophisticated in the ways of state government, having served in a number of capacities since 1979.” The panel further determined that the violations were “significant and numerous” and could not be “explained away as oversights or temporary lapses in judgment.”Erwin also got chastised for creating a “heavily colored” atmosphere for the Board of Education with her political activity on the job. As a “particularly troubling” example it lists a campaign contribution Erwin made to a state lawmaker who chaired Illinois’ higher education appropriations committee.”This suggests that she was responding to a real or imagined pay to play incentive within state government,” the ethics ruling states.Emanuel claims that he had no idea about Erwin’s troubled past and says it won’t deter him from consulting his good friend with the vast “public policy knowledge.”As for Erwin, she’s not exactly unemployed because her gig with the new mayor didn’t pan out. Earlier this month, she became a managing director at the Chicagopublic affairs company founded by Obama’s top political advisor (David Axelrod).
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