BGA Exclusive on "Chicago Tonight"

Investigation On Local Congressman

A new investigation by the Better Government Association, with the Chicago Sun-Times, raises serious questions about a well-known Chicago congressman and how he handled a sizable grant from a special interest. Where did the money end up? And were constituents ill-served? Read the full BGA story below.

The Million-Dollar Question

A nonprofit founded by Congressman Bobby Rush was given $1 million to create a “technology center” for a troubled South Side neighborhood. The project never happened. Where did the money go?

By Sandy Bergo and Chuck Neubauer

Congressman Bobby Rush

In 2000, in the midst of a bruising but ultimately successful Democratic primary campaign against then-state Sen. Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) launched a nonprofit with a stated mission of reviving the violence-plagued Englewood neighborhood.

Called the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corp., the group soon found a generous benefactor in the telecommunications industry: SBC – now called AT&T – donated $1 million toward the creation of a “technology center” that would provide advanced computer training to residents and serve as a small-business incubator in a community with few other entrepreneurial opportunities.

But more than a decade later, the money is all gone, and Rush’s tech center never moved beyond the design stage. Englewood remains as desperate and desolate as ever, and Rush continues to represent the 1st Congressional District, serving an 11th term.

As disturbing as the broken promises from Rush, he is unable or unwilling to show where that money ended up, the Better Government Association found in an investigation with the Chicago Sun-Times. Rush said he did not run the day-to-day operation and kept no records.

What’s more, Rush said in an August interview that, contrary to press releases put out in 2003 by his office and SBC, the $1 million grant never was intended for a building – but for programs.

As such, the SBC money – paid by SBC’s charitable arm and arriving as the company was pushing for legislation in a House committee on which Rush was a key member – went for computer training at churches, libraries and other locations, according to Rush.

The BGA investigation also found that SBC wasn’t the only generous telecommunications or energy company donating to nonprofits affiliated with Rush.

Overall, roughly $1.7 million (including the $1 million grant from SBC) was donated to Rush’s pet charities by businesses counting on favorable actions by him in Congress, according to interviews, and public records examined by the BGA.

While not illegal, this raises questions about whether corporate interests are trying to end-run rules that limit giving to political campaign funds – there are no restrictions when giving to charity – as they try to influence Rush on legislative and other matters.

For more further coverage, visit www.suntimes.com or www.bettergov.org.

Sandy Bergo and Chuck Neubauer are special contributors for the Better Government Association. They can be reached at sandybergo@gmail.com or chuck.neubauer@gmail.com. To contact the BGA’s investigative unit call (312) 386-9201.