IDOT: No corners cut in truck inspections

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112914773426162.jpg’, ”, ‘State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger’);

State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger’s brother inspected trucks that were owned by a contributor to Rauschenberger’s campaign

Denying any corners were cut when 21 local garbage trucks were examined, Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) officials said the truck safety checks in question would not have been performed had they known the business that owned the trucks contributed heavily to the brother of the inspector—Republican gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-22, Elgin).

Tom Rauschenberger—who is the brother of Sen. Rauschenberger, and a commercial vehicle inspector for IDOT—inspected 21 garbage trucks last year, which were owned by Rock River Disposal, Inc. The company is a subsidiary of William Charles, Ltd., which frequently contributes to Sen. Rauschenberger’s campaign.

In addition to being an IDOT commercial vehicle inspector for the past three to four years, Tom Rauschenberger was also a campaign worker for his brother.

The contributions and inspections raise ethical questions concerning how closely IDOT administrators monitor appearances of possible improprieties by their workers.

In response to the contributions and inspections, Cindy Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said: “With all of the ‘pay to play’ problems that we have had, and continue to have in this state, IDOT and all state agencies need to be very sensitive to even the slightest appearance of impropriety.

“Mr. [Tom] Rauschenberger would be well advised to steer clear of conducting commercial vehicle inspections for firms that have contributed to his brother’s campaign coffers,” Canary said.

No favors

Rock River Disposal is a subsidiary of local political titan William Charles, Ltd., which contributed a total of $16,502 to Sen. Rauschenberger’s campaign in 13 transactions between 1994 and 2004. The last known, and largest contribution, was $5,000 on Dec. 29, 2004—three months after Tom Rauschenberger completed the final of his 21 inspections of Rock River Disposal vehicles.

Prior to that time, the largest contribution made to Sen. Rauschenberger by William Charles, Ltd., was $3,500 on Aug. 13, 2003.

According to state records, Tom Rauschenberger inspected seven different Rock River Disposal garbage trucks in late July 2004, and examined an additional 14 trash trucks about two months later, in late September 2004.

Matt Vanover, spokesman for IDOT, and Tom Rauschenberger, said there was no connection between the contributions and the thoroughness of the inspections. To the contrary, Vanover steadfastly asserted Tom Rauschenberger’s inspections resulted in two of Rock River Disposal’s trucks being temporarily pulled out of service for unspecified violations, despite the contributions.

“I didn’t do them any favors with those inspections,” Tom Rauschenberger said.

However, Vanover later said such inspections are normally performed by the Illinois State Police, not by IDOT inspectors such as Rauschenberger. He added that such intra-state commercial vehicles are required to be inspected twice per year, and that federal government standards require IDOT inspectors to perform a limited number of inspections to maintain federal certification.

Meeting the quota

If the state police normally perform the inspections, Tom Rauschenberger was asked why he conducted the inspections. He said it was part of his effort to achieve the required number of commercial vehicle inspections needed to meet federal government standards, which would enable him to perform “compliance audits.”

Vanover said inspectors must conduct 32 compliance audits or reviews per year to maintain federal certification, which is needed to perform IDOT compliance audits. A compliance audit involves not only inspecting trucks, but reviewing paperwork such as logbooks and time cards.

Rauschenberger explained that because of the physical facilities available at Rock River Disposal, he saved time and effort performing the inspections in Rockford, even though he normally works in Frankfurt, Zion and sometimes Deerfield. Specifically, he said rather than having to crawl under the truck to inspect items such as the brakes, he could step into a mechanic’s “pit” to examine the underside of the vehicle.

“The pit made it easier to do inspections. …I just happened to be there [in the Rockford area]. …I had no idea they were giving him money,” Tom Rauschenberger said.

Vanover said the inspections Rauschenberger performed counted as part of the state requirement that intra-state commercial vehicles be inspected two times per year—inspections normally conducted by the Illinois State Police.

”He wouldn’t have done the inspections had he known they were contributing to his campaign,” Vanover said.

Lt. Lincoln Hampton, spokesman for the Illinois State Police, said: “I don’t think we have an opinion on this if they’re not doing anything illegal.”

Mr. Clean

Fellow Republican and state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34, Rockford) defended Sen. Rauschenberger by saying: “There’s no one cleaner than Steve Rauschenberger. …He’s a friend, and above reproach. …

“Why does William Charles support [Sen.] Rauschenberger? Because of his strong support of the road construction industry, and stands on taxation of businesses and taxes on trucks,” Syverson said.

William Charles spokesman Sue Grans faxed the following response: “You obviously have your article written.

“We have supported Steve Rauschenberger for many years because we believe he is a fair and intelligent state senator who is particularly knowledgeable about state finances.

“We have no idea who Tom Rauschenberger is,” Grans wrote.

Dan Proft, spokesman for Rauschenberger, said: “Steve has no idea what businesses Tom is inspecting. And Tom has no idea who is contributing to his campaign. …Chuck Howard [retired executive of William Charles, Ltd.] is on Steve’s campaign finance committee.

“…In either case, for Steve or Tom, it didn’t affect their professional judgment,” Proft added. “There’s no favoritism. IDOT officials should take action if they feel it’s necessary.”

Syverson added that he supports Sen. Rauschenberger’s bid for governor, but is not his campaign manager as previously reported by the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 7, 2004.

Contributions and transfers

Like Rauschenberger, Syverson also received campaign contributions from William Charles.

Between 1997 and 2004, Syverson’s campaign received $16,500 in nine transactions from William Charles, Ltd. His campaign also received a total of $8,000 in 1995 and 1996 from Rockford Blacktop Co., another subsidiary of William Charles, Ltd.

Local road building giant Rockford Blacktop also contributed to Rauschenberger’s campaign in 1994 and 1995 in three transactions, which totaled $1,800.

In addition to being friends, the Syverson and Rauschenberger campaigns exchange campaign money.

State election records show Syverson’s campaign transferred a total of $25,400 to Rauschenberger’s campaign between 1999 and 2003. Rauschenberger’s campaign and an associated fund—the “33rd District Fund”—reciprocated by transferring a total of $18,810 to Syverson’s campaign between 1996 and 2004.

Sen. Rauschenberger is the chairman of the 33rd District Fund, whose purpose is to elect fellow Republicans and Sen. Rauschenberger.

Syverson explained the transfers as two politicians supporting one anothers’ campaigns.

From the Oct. 12-18, 2005, issue

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