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Mihalopoulos: Munger’s ‘new’ Open Book website more of a sequel

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger speaks to supporters during Governors Day at the Illinois State Fair Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, in Springfield.(AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

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It’s only natural for elected officials to trash predecessors of the rival political party and say they’re doing things differently now.

What’s more unusual is to continue a policy started by a predecessor — but claim it as your own work, as Republican Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger recently did.

Nearly nine years ago, amid allegations of pay-to-play contracting in then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration, Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes introduced a website called Open Book. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and other good-government types praised Hynes for creating an easy way for the public to search for campaign contributions made by state contractors.

“I hope this site enhances confidence in state government by increasing the public’s ability to ‘follow the money,'” Hynes wrote in November 2007, according to an archived version of www.openbook.illinoiscomptroller.com.

The late Republican Judy Baar Topinka continued the effort when she replaced Hynes as comptroller in 2011. Unlike Munger, though, it doesn’t appear Topinka made any attempt to re-introduce the site to the world as her own idea.

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“I’m here to announce our office’s newest initiative. It’s called Open Book,” Munger said at a news conference on July 20 in Peoria. “It is a searchable database that allows you to compare state contracts with campaign donations.”

Not only does Munger’s program have the same name and website address as Hynes’ virtually identical effort. Like Hynes, she also used the same “follow the money” catchphrase.

“#OpenBook is a one-of-a-kind transparency initiative developed in-house by my office. #FollowTheMoney,” @Leslie MungerIL tweeted. “Hold elected leaders & those running for office accountable with our new transparency tool.”

The spokesman for the comptroller’s office, Rich Carter, told me Tuesday, “This was not a new initiative,” but said the office deserves credit for technological improvements to a site that took several months to complete.

“Comptroller Munger did inherit the original Open Book from Comptroller Topinka, who inherited it from Comptroller Hynes,” Carter said. “But it was not functional to today’s standards.”

He added, “Comptroller Munger agreed to keep the name Open Book because of its good name ID, but the platform and functionality are brand new.”

Munger’s campaign touted the initiative as her own again in an email blast Tuesday afternoon.

Hynes, now working for a financial-services firm, declined to comment.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, right, fields questions from reporters as State Comptroller Dan Hynes stands behind the governor at a 2005 news conference. File photo by John J. Kim/Sun-Times
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, right, fields questions from reporters as State Comptroller Dan Hynes stands behind the governor at a 2005 news conference. File photo by John J. Kim/Sun-Times

Munger’s Democratic challenger in the November election, Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, said, “It’s amazing to me that she would have the audacity to steal her predecessor’s award-winning initiative — a good-government initiative, ironically — and claim it as her own.”

Mendoza made a somewhat similar misstep last year, when I reported she claimed endorsements from people supporting her primary opponent. She has the support of many powerful Democrats, including Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke.

Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Munger last year, and this is her first run for a full term. Like the governor and many other Illinois Republicans, Munger skipped the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump was crowned the GOP’s presidential nominee — and where Trump’s wife plagiarized Michelle Obama.

Still, Trump and Munger have at least one major friend in common. Businessman Ron Gidwitz has raised funds for Trump and supports Munger, covering the cost of the food at an event for the comptroller at the private Chicago Club, state records show.

“She’s on the same ticket as Donald Trump and refuses to denounce him,” Mendoza said.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno and City Clerk Susana Mendoza talk during a Chicago City Council meeting last year. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ For the Chicago Sun-Times
Ald. Proco Joe Moreno and City Clerk Susana Mendoza talk during a Chicago City Council meeting last year. File Photo. Brian Jackson/ For the Chicago Sun-Times

Munger hasn’t said whether she will vote for Trump.

Either way, Munger’s false Open Book claim shows she has at least a bit in common with Melania Trump.

Tweets by @dmihalopoulos