by Ken Davidson
A new investigation by the Illinois Better Government Association, while not specifically mentioning Hightman, calls the relationship between SBC Illinois and the Office of Congressman Bobby Rush into question. Andy Shaw, President and CEO of the Better Government Association is quick to point out “We’re not suggesting that Rush broke the law, but we are saying the fog needs to be cleared and real answers provided.” SBC Illinois was the donor of the $1M grant to Rush’s non-profit organization. The grant was supposed to build a technology center in Chicago’s troubled Englewood neighborhood. According to reports from the BGA, the center was never built and the money was never accounted for. Shaw calls for an investigation into:
[Rush] maintains the money wasn’t stolen or squandered, but that claim, without verification, doesn’t suffice, so we’re suggesting some options for shining more light on the situation:
The House Ethics Committee can see if Rush crossed any legal or ethical lines in regards to the million-dollar grant, his charity accepting tons of money from regulated companies seeking his legislative help, and his campaign office apparently not paying rent.
The Federal Election Commission can look at whether Rush or his campaign operation violated federal law by apparently accepting free rent, not reporting it as an in-kind donation and possibly exceeding donation limits.
The Internal Revenue Service can investigate the tax implications of all this, including whether Rush’s nonprofit violated the law by wrongly claiming on one disclosure form the tech center had been built, which wasn’t true.
The IRS can also find out if Rush used campaign cash to enhance his personal lifestyle, which is what got former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in trouble.
Any such investigation would obviously focus on whether or not the grantor received anything of value in return for the no strings grant. Regardless of whether there was any impropriety in the transaction, the situation calls into question the professional judgment of Hightman.
Carrie Hightman, the Chair of the Gary P3 Committee, became Chief Legal Office for NiSource in 2007 after serving as CEO of AT&T Illinois, which was formerly SBC Illinois. In a statement released when Hightman joined NiSource, her experience in ” regulatory, legislative, governmental and external affairs activities, as well as community and industry relations, throughout Illinois” were cited. The statement went on to explain:
During her tenure at AT&T, Hightman led the company through a series of important public policy initiatives as AT&T evolved from a traditional telephone company into a provider of diversified communications and entertainment services, including wireline, wireless, data and video services. Under her leadership, AT&T secured unanimous regulatory approval of a landmark agreement to deregulate local telephone service and offer competitive pricing in the metropolitan Chicago market, as well as helped the company return to the long distance telephone market after a twenty-year absence.
The SBC Foundation states that they provide grants of $25,000 to $50,000. The Gazette could find no evidence of any other single grant in any amount near $1M. Additionally, the 990 tax forms submitted by the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation listed no such contribution, despite a specific question asking about “Unusual Grants.”
28 Unusual Grants: For an organization described in line 10, 11, or 12 that received any unusual grants during 20001hrough 2003, prepare a list for your records
to show, for each year, the name of the contributor, the date and amount of the grant, and a brief description of the nature of the grant. Do not file this list with
your return. Do not include these grants in line 15.
423121 12-03-04 NONE Schedule A (Form BBO or 990-EZ) 2004
Hightman was instrumental in selecting the contractor that was recently approved by the airport board to run the airport for up to 40 years. While this information was not disclosed to the airport board, the Gazette has previously reported on the connection between Hightman and one of the companies involved in the partnership that was ultimately selected.
The Better Government Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is not affiliated with the Northwest Indiana Gazette. You can read the entire BGA article at their website The Million Dollar Question