August 7, 2003
BY LYNN SWEET WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF
An examination of federal and state campaign financial disclosure records and other information reveals that Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has developed a disturbing pattern when it comes to how he collects and spends political money he controls.
Rush, an ordained minister, also is asking for trouble because he is blatantly co-mingling his politics with the church he is building in Englewood, the Beloved Community Christian Church. Read on for the link between that and his July endorsement of Democrat Senate hopeful Blair Hull in the 2004 Illinois primary.
I wrote in May that Rush was the only member of Congress to hold a pulpit. "The Lord called me to plant a church,'' he told me. But I am not convinced that the Lord told Rush, the 2nd Ward Democratic committeeman, to send money to his church from the ward organization's political war chest.
House ethics rules make it clear that the job of a House member is a full-time proposition. There are a lot of rules governing the kind of outside work a lawmaker can have and salary caps for outside work in order to avoid conflict of interest, real and perceived. Consider:
*Rush pays himself a salary from the 2nd Ward Regular Democratic Organization campaign fund. He drew $5,000 in 2002 and $11,950 in 2001. Rush reported the income on his annual House financial disclosure statements. His spokesman, William Marshall, said that Rush got a letter from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct clearing him to take the money. However, Marshall did not produce the letter.
There is potentially another issue here. Federal candidates operate under a lot of campaign regulations that limit the amount of donations they can take and forbid donations from corporations and unions. Under very new campaign finance rules--often called the McCain/Feingold law--there are even more restrictions on federal officeholders' use of state campaign funds. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) closed their state funds to avoid the risk of violating the new rules.
*For years, Rush's wife Carolyn has drawn a salary from another fund he controls, Citizens for Rush. In 2002, that was at least $3,500.
*Last December, state disclosure records show, the 2nd Ward Regular Democratic Organization fund made three disbursements related to Beloved Community Christian Church at 6400 S. Lowe. The church received $2,200 Dec. 17; Jewel Foods was paid $581.66 on Dec. 21 for food for Beloved, according to state records, and One Stop Foods on Dec. 20 was paid $790 for food for the church.
*Rush endorsed Hull last month. Now, it turns out, there's a financial connection between the two.
Hull, as I've often reported, is very rich and is spending millions of his own dollars on his campaign. Last Nov. 17, in the exploratory phase of his campaign, he visited Rush's church and made a donation. Jim O'Connor, a Hull spokesman, didn't reveal the amount of the gift, but said he often makes donations when he visits black churches.
The issue for me is not so much Hull offering the money as it is Rush accepting it.
Rush is not the only House member to dip into political funds for personal or family income:
*Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), the 23rd Ward Democratic committeeman, also takes a salary from the ward fund. The same concerns raised over Rush's ward fund apply to Lipinski. Lipinski has disclosed the income on his annual House ethics reports: $12,000 from the ward in 2002; $10,000 in 2001; $10,000 in 2000; $9,000 in 1999 and $8,500 in 1998.
On Tuesday, I reported that Lipinski received $39,500 last year from a vintage sportswear company for research and design work, raising questions from ethics watchdogs about the propriety of the payment.
*Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) disclosed he paid his wife $7,650 from his "Davis for Congress'' fund.
*Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) paid his wife from his "Gutierrez for Congress'' fund. The amount was not disclosed, but his spokesman said it was about $1,000.
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