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POLITICS: Campaigns

Illinois GOP hopefuls address school 'clout' issue

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Education,Associated Press,Republican Party,Illinois,Campaigns

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The three lawmakers seeking the Republican nomination for governor still are facing questions about their roles in a five-year-old admissions scandal at the University of Illinois.

During a televised debate last week, state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and Treasurer Dan Rutherford all were asked if they had "taken advantage of" the Category I list — often referred to as "the clout list" — through which the university tracked lawmakers checking on student admissions. The list was at the heart of the 2009 scandal over some lawmakers using their influence to get students enrolled ahead of others who were more qualified.

Rutherford and Dillard both acknowledged being on the list but Brady initially did not.

"The answer is no," he said.

But during a post-debate session with reporters that wasn't broadcast, Brady acknowledged that his name appeared on the list but said he had not inappropriately tried to use his clout to get a student enrolled.

His name being on the list simply meant "my office had called to say, 'What's the procedure?'" Brady answered. "We have never been accused nor have I ever used my office to help someone move up in front of somebody else, nor would I."

The question arose after Brady and Dillard grilled the fourth Republican contender for governor, businessman Bruce Rauner, about his daughter's admission to an exclusive Chicago school, to which he later donated $250,000. Rauner's opponents have called it an example of his willingness to use his influence to ensure special treatment for a relative. Rauner admits he called then-Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan, who is now U.S. secretary of education, to ask about the admissions process, but says he never asked for a favor.

THE ISSUE

News reports in 2009 revealed that the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus admitted some politically connected applicants over other, better-qualified students.

Dozens of elected officials from both major parties were on the list, from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to former Gov. George Ryan. The scandal eventually led university President B. Joseph White and others to resign.

BRADY

A copy of the list made public in 2009 under the Freedom of Information Act lists two inquiries from Brady about unidentified applicants, one of whom had been denied admission and another who had applied late. The names of the applicants have never been released.

The state senator from Bloomington says he answered no to the "clout list" question at the debate because he understood it as asking whether he tried to influence the school. "And I didn't," he told the AP.

The second question after the debate, Brady said, spoke more directly to his being on the list.

"My office was simply calling for constituents to see about the process, not the influence," he said, adding that he didn't make the calls or know who the applicants were.

DILLARD AND RUTHERFORD

During the debate, Dillard, of Hinsdale, called the list a "contact list," saying his name appeared seven times.

"Four of the seven were letters of recommendation that I wrote about (students). ... They're constituents. They're not my own daughter," Dillard said. "Most of mine were rejected. So, so much for your clout list."

Rutherford, of Chenoa, said he checked on applications for "four, five, six" people.

He said he never asked for special treatment, and compared it to checking on a declined application for a barber's license.

"It's constituent casework," he said, saying he was merely trying to clarify the applications appeals process.

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