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University of Madigan

"House Speaker Michael Madigan swayed the University of Illinois to admit the relatives of public officials, political allies and donors who contributed $115,200 to campaign funds he controls, a Tribune investigation has found," the paper reports today.

"Only five of the 28 applicants helped in three recent years by the state's most powerful lawmaker lived in Madigan's district, and many would not have been admitted on their own merit."

Well, there goes the excuse that he was just performing constituent service. Oh wait, I forgot that in Illinois your constituents are your relatives and campaign contributors.

"The Tribune investigation is the first detailed public examination of the relationships between U. of I. applicants who received preferential treatment and an elected official responsible for getting them on a secret admissions clout list. While the newspaper previously reported that Madigan's name was associated with more applicants than any other lawmaker, it couldn't determine whom he helped and how they were linked to him."


"Michael Madigan declined to speak to the Tribune but released a statement saying he intervened in admissions cases to be responsive to his constituents and Illinois citizens when they asked for his help. Records show Madigan's office faxed, called and e-mailed university officials on behalf of the students.

"'I would do so without regard or consideration as to any political relationships or campaign contributions,' Madigan said in the statement."

Really? I could just call up Madigan's office and have just as good a chance of getting his help as any of the people in this story? Fascinating!

Let's read on.

"However, at the time of the requests, the people Madigan helped included the relatives of a Chicago alderman, a high-ranking Chicago Police Department official, a Chicago comptroller and an Appellate Court judge. Two of the applicants are related to Madigan himself."

Total coincidence, dude.

"The documents show the university took Madigan's requests seriously. About 16.5 percent of the university's operating budget comes from a state appropriation, and Madigan has significant influence over higher education funding.

"In one instance, an undergraduate application was twice referred to as a 'very important' case, noting that chief university lobbyist Rick Schoell would 'call the speaker' about it. Employees of the university's office of governmental affairs repeatedly told a campus official that the request came from Madigan's office.

"When referring to a relative of then-Chicago comptroller Tariq Malhance, university lobbyist Terry McLennand wrote in a 2004 e-mail that the applicant was among the 'top cases we are watching' after an admissions official wrote that the student was expected 'to be denied.' 'Any and all help on these cases is greatly appreciated,' McLennand wrote."

I'm sure Madigan could clear up his involvement in these cases if he could just find the time to answer the Tribune's questions. But Tuesday was the day he shops for apples.

"Malhance did not return calls for comment, and the relative denied any knowledge of Madigan's help."

So funny how no one is able to explain!

"[Madigan] disagreed that students he backed were underqualified, because, he said, they have done well at the university. Rather, he blamed the admissions system.

"'It seems that an imperfect screening and review system, rather than a lack of merit and achievement, might have been the real cause of their denial for admission or placement on a waiting list,' he said [in his statement]."

See, Madigan's screening process - you know, the one in which he'll help anyone who contacts his office - is much more thorough than the one those so-called "experts" at the university uses.

The students Madigan sent all did well!

Um . . .

"University records show otherwise. One student associated with Madigan who was admitted off a wait list received an F, two D's and 13 C's during his first three years in high school.

"Another applicant, who was 'moved in' after appealing his rejection and described as 'relatively important' by an admissions officer, had missed his first-period class nearly three dozen times in his senior year, according to university records. 'The high school counselor was very surprised and not exactly thrilled that he was admitted,' the officer wrote in an e-mail to the governmental affairs office."

It gets worse. Or better, shall we say.

"Another Madigan contributor whose relatives are on the admissions clout list is Steven Gruca, a retired Cook County probation officer who has given $18,675 to Michael or Lisa Madigan-related funds since 1998. Two of Gruca's relatives applied to U. of I. in 2007, and were accepted for fall 2008. Gruca made his two largest contributions - $2,200 each - in 2007 and 2008.

"According to U. of I. records, Madigan received a letter in October 2007 asking for 'any consideration' in regards to the Gruca relatives' applications. Madigan's office faxed the letter to the university. The applicants were admitted in December during the first round of notifications, and documents show they were ranked highly by the admissions staff.

"Neither Steven Gruca nor his wife, Barbara, a Cook County probation officer, responded to requests for comment.

"Steven Gruca's father, Stanley, said he doesn't know if his son asked Madigan for help, but he believes the students deserved to be admitted.

"'My son is a big Madigan supporter, so I don't see what the problem would be,' said Stanley Gruca."

The system works!

But we're not to the punch line quite yet. Ready? Here goes:

"In the early 1990s, the elder Gruca appeared on the ballot as Madigan's Republican opposition, though news reports at the time indicated he never campaigned against the speaker, and he told the Tribune in an interview last month that he considers himself a lifelong Democrat."

Wow. That was almost better than sex.

"Cook County and Illinois have a rich history of ghost candidates and so-called political plants appearing on the ballot against veteran politicians - the theory being the plants weaken any real opposition. The elder Gruca said he just wanted to know how it felt to run in a political race."

Against Michael Madigan. Just wanted to know how it felt. And you know what? It felt great! Especially because he didn't have to actually do any campaigning!


"Madigan also sponsored a relative of Steven Hensley, a Madigan campaign contributor and circulator of petitions for the speaker's campaigns. The relative, referred to in university records as a 'Madigan request,' was an alternate to get into a competitive graduate program at the Chicago campus. The applicant eventually was admitted. What's more, the relative then received more than $32,000 in taxpayer-funded legislative scholarships from the speaker.

"Hensley, a Cook County sherriff's office employee, donated $20,375 to Lisa Madigan and Madigan's 13th Ward organization from 1997 to 2009. When reached at the sherrif's office, Hensley said: 'I can't talk to you about that. I am at work.' He did not return later calls. A woman who answered the phone at Hensley's listed address threatened to call police if a reporter called again."

The Hensleys apparently are not proud of the work their relative - perhaps a son or daughter - did at the University of Illinois. Or they were out buying apples for their friend, the Speaker.



"While in prior years Speaker Madigan made inquiries on behalf of applicants, we know of no instance in which he exerted inappropriate pressure," U. of I. interim President Stanley Ikenberry said in a statement.

Every inquiry is inappropriate pressure, Stanley. Where did you get your degree from?


POSTSCRIPT: "11,000 Students Denied Aid."


Comments welcome.


Posted on May 5, 2010

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