The Blagojevich bankrollers

January 14, 2009 9:27:28 PM PST
As legal clouds gathered over the governor the past six months, cash donations for him kept pouring in.The governor's campaign fund is called "Friends of Blagojevich."

He may not have as many friends today as he did before being arrested on December 9 but campaign records that the I-Team has obtained show Mr. Blagojevich's friends and supporters who have stuck with him contributed more than $600,000 since July.

Even as all the governor's men were falling around him last summer and into the autumn, campaign records shows that many of his key donors kept on giving; two hundred and forty one individuals, corporations, labor unions, politicians and political action committees between July and late November gave donations totaling $617,643.41.

"Holy cow! How in the world can a man with such a dark cloud over his head raise $618,000? Who is giving to the governor when virtually everyone in the state knew he was in trouble?" said Cindi Canary, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

According to Blagojevich records, a company called Dreamworld was the largest contributor since July with a $50,000.

Dreamworld is the world's number one supplier of 'do-rags' and other fashion headgear, according to its Web site. The company, based in suburban Niles, is a division of Jinny Beauty Supplies.

Since 2001, according to state records, Dreamworld and Jinny have given Rod Blagojevich nearly $200,000 in donations.

The beauty supply company has only a few, very small state contracts.

One division of the firm, Jinny Jails, sells grooming supplies to state prisons. A company official says they have a current account with the Dwight Correctional Center.

Company CEO Ann Jihn and her sons who manage the firm were unavailable to discuss the donations.

"The next thing that jumped out at me is how many contributions he was racking up from engineering firms and construction firms and other companies who might play a role should we pass a capital bill in Illinois," said Canary.

Highway and building construction and engineering firms make up the bulk of the Blagojevich bankrollers from the past six months, according to state records; some have current state contracts.

Some people who were appointed by Blagojevich to state positions also continued to pony up late last year.

Thirty thousand dollars came from the downstate Market Street Bancshares and two of its top officials, one of whom is a Blagojevich appointee to the state Employment Security Board of Review. The other was appointed to the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees last fall.

The bank and its donor officers did not return ABC7's calls. And the I-Team never heard back from the owner of the Stough Real Estate Group, Mike Pizzuto, who gave Blagojevich $10,000 last summer.

Pizzuto's name appeared on a 2003 clout list of donors who were to be given Blagojevich appointments.

"He is on the state's retirement board. He is up next month for reappointment," said Canary.

Contractor Vuk Zecevic wasn't out for a state job in October when he donated $1,000. He says he just wanted to help Blagojevich, a family friend and fellow Serbian. Now, he's sorry he did.

"Disappointed. I couldn't believe that he could do it but the more I heard about that, I realized there must be something," said Zecevic.

Several Illinois lawyers and law firms with state contracts also paid big dollars to Blagojevich. But new 'pay-to-play' legislation would forbid donations by any firm holding state contracts worth more than $50,000 except for highway contractors who are getting a pass.