Godless in Chicago

Topinka discusses tax dollars for religious organizations

Judy Baar Topinka discussed with me, on Sunday, what she would do regarding payments on unconstitutional grants of tax dollars to houses of worship, parochial schools and religious ministries, if she were to be elected as the next Comptroller of the State of Illinois.


Judy Baar Topinka, at her Campaign Kickoff rally near downtown Chicago on Sunday, October 25, 2009. Photo by Rob Sherman.

Judy told me that it would be up to the Attorney General to decide if the grants were constitutional and, if the Attorney General affirmed the constitutionality of the grants, she would pay them.

While her answer sounds reasonable, that's not the way it works in State Government.

By law, the job of the Attorney General is to defend the constitutionality of all actions of State Government, not to question the constitutional of those actions.

State Government is the law client of the Attorney General.  The job of any lawyer is to defend the actions of her client, even when her client is obviously wrong, not to block the actions of her client.

That's why, when I sued the State of Illinois to block their million dollar grant to Pilgrim Baptist Church, the unconstitutional grant was defended in court by Attorney General Lisa Madigan.  Last month, that grant got cancelled, due to intense and unrelenting legal and public pressure from me, so one of Lisa's attorneys has asked my attorney who is working on that particular case to dismiss the court case.

That's why, when my daughter, Dawn, and I sued the State of Illinois regarding its unconstitutional Student Prayer Act, commonly known as the Illinois "Moment of Silence" law, Lisa defended the law in court, regardless of whether or not she agreed with the law.

In fact, that's why, after Federal District Court Judge Robert Gettleman ruled in favor of Dawn and me in January, 2009, saying that the Student Prayer Act is, indeed, unconstitutional, Lisa appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, thus wasting even more taxpayer dollars defending this unconstitutional law.

The job of the Illinois Attorney General is to defend any unconstitutional payment of grants that State Government has directed the Illinois Comptroller to pay, not to stop the Comptroller from paying them on constitutional grounds.

During her speech on Sunday, Judy made a wonderful presentation, in which she promised to be the watchdog for the taxpayers.  She said that she will review contracts before they are paid, not after.  However, if Judy's way of reviewing contracts is to ask the Attorney General to determine the constitutionality of contracts, including grant agreements, then we are in for more of the same.

I called Judy on Tuesday to give her an opportunity to expand or revise her answer about this issue.  Judy was busy, but she promised me that she'd get back to me soon and took my telephone number. 

One commenter to my previous post asked me to "hold Judy's feet to the fire" on this one.  While I thank "gr8hands" for his or her sentiments, I'd like to clarify my role.

I do serious journalism that is professionally written, in behalf of the leading news organization in the Midwest.  My job as a professional journalist is to find out from candidates for public office, and from elected officials, what their position is on the issues of the day, and then report that to you.  It is not the job of a professional journalist, such as myself, to offer to the candidate a competing agenda and advocate for that, at his or her news conference.  That's your job, as a reader of this blog and as a registered voter.

You can do that by contacting the candidate, or the campaign, and letting them know what you think.  One of the best ways of doing that is by attending a campaign event or public (government) meeting as a concerned citizen -- not as a journalist -- and politely but firmly letting the candidate know exactly what your opinion is.

I can offer opinions in these posts, which I liberally do -- and from a liberal perspective.  However, I can't do that at a news conference, because I'm attending as a professional journalist, not as a professional social activist.

There's a lot of work involved in putting together a successful news conference that attracts as many members of the news media as possible.  The candidate's or official's team isn't spending their time and the candidate's money, doing that work, for the purpose of attracting a large audience to hear somebody else's agenda, such as mine or that of another candidate.  Others are obligated to do that at their own expense, not at the expense of somebody else and as the result of somebody else's hard work.

Judy's team did all that work, spent all that money publicizing her event to the press and, indeed, spent a lot of money on renting and furnishing that party room, complete with food, drinks and banners, for the purpose of getting out Judy's position on the issues, not to publicize sombody else's position on the issues -- on Judy's dime.  This was Judy's news conference, not mine, so it was not for me to use her event to promote my agenda.

It is because I always maintain strict journalistic professionalism that candidates and elected officials, from the President of the United States to Village Trustees, have allowed me for over twenty years to attend their news conferences.  That strict journalistic professionalism is also why the leading news organization in the Midwest allows me to write for them.

The day I start advocating my viewpoints at somebody else's news conference is the day that I will never again be allowed to attend them, and rightly so.

"gr8hands" had no way of knowing all of that, so this is not criticism of him or her, but now you know how it works at news conferences and why I can't do advocacy of my views, there.

As it turns out, another candidate for the Republican nomination for Comptroller, William J. Kelly, tried to do that very thing.  He attended Judy's news conference for the purpose of trying to promote his candidacy.  He wanted to use Judy's power to draw the media -- and Judy's campaign expenditures -- as a way of attracting media attention to himself that he could not otherwise draw.

Kelly got promptly booted out of there by Judy's campaign staff, as well he should have.  All Kelly succeeded in doing, by his unprofessional conduct at Judy's event and the other bizarre behavior that he demonstrated on Sunday, was to demonstrate that William J. Kelly could be the worst candidate for public office of all time.  Voters should firmly and overwhelmingly reject his candidacy.  

Please leave a comment, below, to let me know what you think, and tell your friends about this through your social media networks and word of mouth.

I look forward to your comments on this one.  Do you find Judy Baar Topinka's answers to this issue acceptable?

Send personal comments, comments unrelated to this story or notification of typos that you see in any of my posts to rob@robsherman.com.  Also, if you have trouble posting a comment directly to Godless in Chicago, e-mail it to me and I'll post it for you.

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redway1 said:

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Leave it to Sherman to lend a strange story. I'm no fan of Judy Baar Topinka's. Her time has come and gone - a long time ago. The blogs on this tell a different story - that Topinka's people shoved a camera guy outside her event and a police report for battery was filed by Kelly. What's with that? Isn't this the Comptroller's race? I think Topinka's old-style politics are at an end. Mr. Sherman may not be big on God...but he should at least get his facts straight.

gr8hands said:


Rob, my 'hold her feet to the fire' comment was made with an understanding of how press conferences (I've attended more than a few) and political functions (again, I've attended plenty) work.

I meant it as a way of encouraging you to keep asking tough questions, such as: "Given that the job of the Illinois Attorney General is to defend any unconstitutional payment of grants that State Government has directed the Illinois Comptroller to pay, and not to stop the Comptroller from paying them on constitutional grounds, are you going to refuse to pay any unconstitutional grants, and thus save the state/taxpayers all the litigation costs?"

That would not be putting forward your own agenda (or making a speech), and would certainly allow the candidate to express their own stance. I appreciate the fine line an advocate/journalist must walk, but still believe it is possible to ask tough, piercing questions that strip away the rhetoric to flesh out exactly where a candidate actually stands.

(Notice my sample question doesn't mention you being an atheist blogger, or even state what might be 'unconstitutional' about a particular grant, so should pass muster for not advocating your position.)

jude42 said:

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while topinka isn't a choice pick, you would have to be insane to endorse william j. kelly. i'd rather vote for topinkas corpse before i voted for that annoying buffoon. he has to do the "party crashing" bit, because he can't really win legitimately (he has no qualifications, caustic personality, a televised alcohol problem) I feel sorry for those he has suckered into believing in this very lame attempt.

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