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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Black Panther turned politician is under federal probe

The House Ethics Committee on Monday announced it is probing whether Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., improperly received free rent for a South Side office in violation of state and federal laws and House rules and standards of conduct, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
The panel released a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics which concluded there were potentially violations stemming from a lack of rental payments for the South Side office going back decades, amounting to $365,040 for about 20 years.
The OCE, in forwarding its investigative report to the House ethics panel in June, said there was "substantial reason" to believe the free rent amounted to in-kind contributions that violated House rules as well as state and federal laws. The committee decided to take up the Rush matter on July 25. The OCE is an independent, non-partisan organization which reviews allegations of misconduct against House members. The OCE has no power to sanction a member and after its investigation refers the matter to the House Committee on Ethics, which then continues with its own probe.
Last December, a Chicago Sun-Times/Better Government Association probe of Rush by Chuck Neubauer and Sandy Bergo reported that Rush had little to show for a $1 million grant Rush secured from SBC (later rebranded as AT&T) for a nonprofit he founded in Englewood. Neubauer and Bergo also reported that Rush, who is a minister, used money from his campaign fund for his Beloved Community Christian Church and has not reported paying rent for his campaign office, a potential violation of House ethics rules. Rush told the Sun-Times earlier this year he believes the probe stems from these stories.
Rush's attorney, in a reply to the probe also made public on Monday, said the value of the free rent was overstated because the space was barely used, the furniture and equipment on the premises were "limited to junk items" and the space itself was of limited commercial value. Rush also offered to return the keys to the office.
"The Committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee," the committee said in a statement.
The Office of Congressional Ethics concluded in its report, released to the public on Monday, that Rush may not have paid rent for an office at 3361 S. Martin Luther King Drive, unit C-6, which he has used since 1989. At issue is unpaid rent from 1993 to 2013. Before that, the rent was paid by the City of Chicago when Rush used it as an aldermanic office.
From the OCE report: "He has been a tenant there in roles as a city Alderman, Cook County Ward Committeeman, State Committeeman, and a congressional candidate.In only one of those roles, as a city Alderman, did Representative Rush occupy the office space in an official capacity and pay for its use under terms of a valid lease. Since 1993,Representative Rush has used the office space in varying political capacities and has never paid rent to the landlord, an Illinois limited partnership. The landlord has sought to lease the space to a rent-paying tenant in the past, viewing the space with some degree of value while accounting each year for the amount of rent that should have been paid.
.. The Board recommends that the Committee further review the above allegation concerning Representative Rush's office rental space because there is a substantial reason to believe that Representative Rush's state and federal campaign committees accepted inkind contributions in violation of Illinois state law, federal law, and House rules. ..Representative Rush continued receiving the free office space in violation of the lease terms, while other tenants of the landlord were not given the same special favors."
Rush, first elected to Congress in 1992, won another term last Tuesday, running against nominal opposition. He turns 68 on Nov. 23.

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