Chicago political connections helped companies win city bids at start of COVID-19 pandemic, BGA says

Some reached out to aldermen, Sen. Dick Durbin: BGA
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Better Government Association is looking into how valuable political connections were during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alejandra Cancino from the BGA joined ABC 7 Chicago Saturday to talk about the story.

At that time, speed was critical to source medical gear, like personal protective equipment, Cancino said.

It's not illegal to use personal relationships to that extent, but the network of "friends of friends" is rare, she said. In this case, some companies called aldermen and others connected with Sen. Dick Durbin's campaign chief, according to the BGA.

"We focused on five emails that the campaign chief, Greg Bales, sent to City Hall," Cancino said.

The emails reportedly show how companies used their connections to get to the senator's campaign chief. One company went through a former state representative. Another went through a photographer that worked on political campaigns, Cancino said.

In the end, three of the companies that connected with Bales got a government contract. One, a suburban furniture maker, became the city's largest supplier of medical gear.

To write this story, BGA examined nearly 50 of the city's COVID-19 emergency contracts and conducted dozens of interviews.

Interviewees said they were just trying to help, and the city said political connections played no role in its decision making. Bales, the senator's campaign chief, said his intention was to pass along much needed connections to PPE.

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