Bruce Rauner’s triumph as the new Republican governor of Obama’s home state was the icing on the GOP’s national victory cake on Election Night. The cherry atop that frosting would be for Rauner to appoint open-government advocate Adam Andrzejewski as Illinois comptroller.
Rauner’s unusual and invaluable opportunity springs from tragedy.
Adam Andrzejewski is the right man for this job. The 45-year-old resides in Hinsdale, a Chicago suburb, with his wife of 14 years and their three daughters. From 1997 to 2007, Adam and his younger brother, Abe, managed American Marketing and Publishing, the country’s largest producer of hometown telephone books. As the company reached 165 employees, 240 communities served, and $20 million in sales, Adam sold his shares, pocketed his winnings, and pivoted to public service.
Undeterred, Adam used his own money to launch a non-profit called “For the Good of Illinois” and another, Open the Books. OTB has lived by its slogan: “Every dime, online, in real time.”
In just three years, Adam used his vision, executive experience, and dedicated team of like-minded professionals to construct from scratch the first private, searchable database of 1.5 billion federal-, state-, and local-government spending records. Under Adam’s leadership, OTB has placed on the Internet the checkbooks of 48 states, including Illinois’s from 2005 through 2014. (Only California and Colorado still hide their checkbooks.) Taxpayers, activists, and common citizens can look up literally every check going to contractors, suppliers, and others doing business with their states.
Thanks to Adam’s Freedom of Information Act request, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel placed the Windy City’s checkbook online, from 2002 forward. Between that year and 2013, those now-open documents include a quarter-million recipients, 8.3 million transactions, and $90 billion in payments. OTB also has posted the salaries of Chicago’s government workers going back to 2000.
OTB has dug through Uncle Sam’s records, too. It has publicized farm subsidies paid to city slickers, SBA loans awarded to Fortune 100 companies, and bonuses handed to cruel, crooked bureaucrats at the dysfunctional Veterans Administration.
“Our nation’s veterans need access to health care and doctors, not interior decorators and designers,” Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) said last spring. “I’m proud of the work ordinary citizens and groups like Open the Books are doing to hold the VA accountable.”
One example of what Adam and OTB have exposed in Illinois shows what fiscal excavation he and the comptroller’s staff of some 300 people could accomplish, if Rauner assigned him to this post.
As Adam revealed in Forbes, where he is a contributor, Illinois’s College of DuPage (the state’s second-largest) ran a huge slush fund that would make the biggest party planner or travel agent cry with envy. “Since at least April 2013, $26.1 million flowed through a special type of accounting called ‘imprest’ and was hidden from public scrutiny,” Adam wrote. “At COD, imprest payments aren’t individually disclosed, but instead aggregated and summarized as a line item.”
This single $26,100,000 journal entry actually included 467 separate fund accounts, 5,613 vendors, and some 21,000 transactions. These expenditures included $3,800 in membership dues to COD president Robert Breuder’s private shooting club, additional money for three global-satellite phones that Breuder used on exotic hunting expeditions, and $110,000 for wine and alcohol. These adult beverages were entered in the school’s ledger as “instructional supplies.”
COD even used taxpayer funds to construct a chic French dining establishment, complete with wine cellar. Adam explains: “The restaurant lost over $500,000 in its first year of operation while purchasing over $200,000 in wine and accessories.”
COD is just one public organization in Illinois’s vast, deeply indebted, and breathtakingly corrupt government. However, COD encapsulates the problems that Illinois faces and the solutions that Adam could offer. Open the Books’ use of smartphone technology, for example, could empower citizens to peruse spending documents by ZIP code while commuting on Chicago’s famous elevated trains.
Chicago inspector general Joseph M. Ferguson calls this process “a patronage war-crimes commission.” Great idea! Given the decades of hanky panky from Lake Shore Drive to Springfield, such a major step is long overdue and badly needed and could create a profound teaching moment for the entire country.
An energetic and creative reformer like Adam should delight the Left and the Right. Indeed, one struggles to craft a legitimate argument against the truth, transparency, and accountability that he champions.
Honest liberals can discover extravagant outlays, like the egregious abuses at the College of DuPage, and demand that such funds instead underwrite scholarships for low-income students or better pay for professors and teaching assistants. (Most on the right could support that.)
Conservatives can use such outrageous revelations to demand less — or at least less stupid — government spending.
Indeed, all that transparency does is let the sun shine in. If Illinois voters like no-bid contracts, crony deals, and extravagant spending on behalf of union supporters of Democrats or corporate backers of Republicans, let them applaud and vote for more of the same.
However, let everyone in the Land of Lincoln peer deep into every pocket in which their tax dollars tumble. If a new Illinois transparency model works, Rauner should help spread it from coast to coast. Indeed, with Republicans about to hold 31 governorships — including those in such Democratic strongholds as Maryland and Massachusetts — Rauner should find kindred spirits eager to steer sunlight at government.
Once upon a time, an obscure Republican was elected to lead a midwestern state. Soon after taking office, he muscularly modernized government, survived a recall campaign, gained greater glory on the right, won reelection, and earned talk of advancing to the White House. This heartwarming story stars Governor Scott Walker (R., Wis.), the free-market hero who epitomizes public-sector-union reform. With the assistance of Adam Andrzejewski and the cause of true transparency in government, Illinois’s Bruce Rauner likewise could live happily ever after.
— Deroy Murdock is a New York–based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.