Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, fighting to hold onto his seat and his reputation as a reformer who's cleaned up state government, is facing questions about a now-defunct anti-violence program he started in the run-up to his 2010 election after a state audit found funds were misused.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission will decide whether to call witnesses to testify about the program, which is also under investigation by federal and Cook County prosecutors.
Republicans — including Quinn's opponent in the November election, businessman Bruce Rauner — have alleged Quinn used money from the $55 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative as a political slush fund to secure votes in predominantly minority neighborhoods of heavily Democratic Chicago in a tight race. Quinn has denied that claim and says he has "zero tolerance" for fraud or abuse.
Regardless of whether there was any wrongdoing, the allegations alone could be damaging for Quinn, who often touts the steps he's taken to turn Illinois around after the last two governors went to prison for corruption. Rauner, meanwhile, has worked to paint Quinn as just another insider.
The Legislative Audit Commission oversees state audits and must approve one that concluded that the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was hastily put together, poorly managed and had "pervasive" problems, including the misuse of funds. Quinn has said he shut down the program in 2012 when concerns about possible misspending arose.
Quinn's office also says it has instructed all state agencies to fully support any law enforcement inquiries. Senate Republican spokeswoman Patty Schuh said Tuesday that Quinn's office had provided members of the Legislative Audit Commission an estimated 2,000 emails linked to the program.
Prosecutors want the commission to hold off on subpoenas of seven former Quinn administration employees involved in the program, including his former chief of staff and other members of his one-time inner circle, for 90 days while they conduct their investigation. But Republicans have said they want to proceed.
The commission is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, and it would take a majority vote to reverse an earlier decision to call the witnesses.
Schuh said all seven witnesses are expected to attend the hearing in Chicago. Even if they are called, they could exercise their constitutional right not to answer questions.
Quinn ascended to the governor's office in 2009 when lawmakers ousted Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich after Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges. Quinn won his first full term in 2010, beating Republican state Sen. Bill Brady by a slim margin.