Treasurer used college money for car

May 4, 2009 3:35:05 PM PDT
Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is under fire for using money from a state college savings fund to purchase an SUV.Giannoulias says the vehicle is used to promote the Bright Start college fund. Millions of dollars from the funds investment portfolio was lost last year.

For Alexi Giannoulias' exploratory candidacy for the United States Senate, this controversy is the first public bump in the road. And it happens because of a relatively inexpensive to buy and operate SUV that his office bought 18 months ago.

Giannoulias did not deny the controversial purchase in October of 2007.

The Ford Escape hybrid cost $26,000 and was drawn from the state's Bright Start fund in which families invest to send their kids to college.

The treasurer says the SUV never is used personally by himself or his staff.

"It's used by members of our office to travel the state and talk about bright start. That's why it was paid out of that fund," said Alexi Giannoulias, (D) Illinois treasurer.

This year, Giannoulias, 33, formed a committee to explore the possibility of a run for the U.S Senate. He's considered by some to be the leader in a field that could include appointed incumbent Roland Burris, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Merchandise Mart owner Christopher Kennedy.

Illinois Republicans note that under Treasurer Giannoulias, the Bright Start fund lost $85 million last year.

"Why would they make a decision to use college funds for an SUV? The amount of the purchase could have been equal or more than a tuition," said Andy McKenna, Illinois Republican Party.

Giannoulias said under his leadership Bright Start had grown by 48,000 investors. He dismissed the Republican criticism.

"The Republicans are formally an unbiased group," said Giannoulias.

Two summers ago, the treasurer promoted the purchase of Ford Escape hybrids and reportedly owns one himself.

The state's senior U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who traveled overseas with Giannoulias earlier this year, has not decided whom he will support to become his colleague from Illinois. Durbin said in the meantime the treasurer would have to diffuse his own controversies.

"He is going to have to show in this early stage he can answer questions directly and satisfy any concerns people might have. He will come to learn that standing in front of these microphones is part of this business," said Sen. Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.

Giannoulias also told the news conference the SUV was purchased to replace a ten year old van. He said he'd make the same decision and buy the Ford Escape.

Giannoulias reportedly has raised over a $1 million for his Senate campaign.


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