Hastert used government office for private business
Former speaker's taxpayer-paid secretary coordinated meetings, conducted research on proposed venture
Bob Edgar, president of the government watchdog group Common Cause, said federal dollars should not be used for private business ventures.
Hastert "can't take the money and do with it what he wants," said Edgar, a former Democratic congressman. "It's your money and my money and all of us who pay taxes, so he has to comply with the law."
Edgar said the Office of Congressional Ethics should investigate whether federal funds were misused by Hastert, who in retirement does not draw a government salary. If Hastert is found to have violated the law, he should repay any money spent improperly, Edgar said.
The ethics office is a nonpartisan agency that reviews allegations of misconduct against U.S. representatives and their staffs.
The Tribune first wrote about Hastert's government office in 2010. Brad Hahn, a paid consultant to the office and former Hastert press secretary, said then that staffers were combing through documents and mementos from Hastert's House tenure, handling speech requests and working with the Hastert Center at Wheaton College.
Hahn's old firm, Burnham Strategies Group, received $70,000 from the Office of the Former Speaker. The firm last was paid in January 2011, the same month Hahn joined the staff of Illinois' Republican comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka.
While serving as spokesman for the ex-speaker's office in 2010, Hahn told the Tribune that Hastert kept his business ventures separate from the operation of the government office. Contacted recently, Hahn declined to comment.
Public records detail spending only through last June, and a Tribune analysis found that the office stands to spend almost $1.875 million before closing. That total does not include federal benefits such as health care for which the three employees were eligible.
Nearly $1.4 million has gone to pay the salaries of Post, Jarman and a third staffer, Bryan Harbin. Harbin, an administrative assistant, was paid $138,551 a year. He went part time last year and now makes half that, records show.
Harbin, like Post, is a former Hastert congressional and campaign aide. His relationship with Hastert goes back to Yorkville High School, where Hastert was his wrestling coach.
Harbin said his many duties in the office included archiving Hastert's papers and gifts, setting up and attending education programs and forums for schools and colleges, and helping "coordinate the (former) speaker's appearances and attend events such as groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings."
Rent for the office totaling $239,900 was paid to a firm partly owned by three sons of lawyer-lobbyist Dallas Ingemunson, a former Kendall County Republican chairman and former campaign treasurer for Hastert. The monthly rent had been $6,300 but dropped to $400 a month in February 2011.
About $21,364 went to lease a sport utility vehicle from Gjovik Auto in Sandwich, a dealership owned by Olaf Gjovik, a political supporter and Hastert friend. Hastert gave up the vehicle in March 2010, Hahn has said.
The office is scheduled to close Nov. 30, Post said.
Emails between John and Post that link the Office of the Former Speaker to Hastert's business dealings first surfaced during a court battle John is waging against Wheaton College. John alleges in a lawsuit that college officials and others ruined his business relationship with Hastert, who is not a defendant in the suit.
John filed his suit last year and has amended it twice. His most recent filing on Oct. 3 provided fresh details about the breadth of his business dealings with Hastert and included a half-dozen emails between him and Post. The Tribune separately obtained nearly three dozen more emails between John and Post.
In his suit, John said his business relationship with Hastert ended in January 2011. He claimed a former Wheaton College trustee asked Hastert to end any dealings with John. Hastert declined to discuss specific allegations in the suit.
Wheaton College has moved to dismiss the suit and has filed a counterclaim against John, alleging he has defamed the school and its leaders.
"Wheaton College does not believe Mr. John's allegations have merit and has been vigorously defending itself against his claims," said LaTonya Taylor, a Wheaton spokeswoman.
John traces the breakup with Hastert to his child custody case in Arkansas, where his former girlfriend, who is the mother of the child, lives, according to court records. John alleges his ex-girlfriend's father asked a longtime friend who had been a Wheaton trustee to dig up information on John. The trustee is not the same one who allegedly called Hastert.
John claims Wheaton College officials provided to his ex-girlfriend's family private, false information from his 1980s student records to potentially be used against him in the custody case.
Last summer, John served seven days in the Benton County Jail in Arkansas after the judge found him in criminal and civil contempt for failing to pay court-ordered fees, including covering his ex-girlfriend's legal bills totaling nearly $46,000, money he eventually paid. John was jailed while he was appealing the judge's decision to award fees.
John said the various projects he was spearheading died after Hastert pulled out.
"When he's involved, things get done," John said in a statement to the Tribune. "When he left the deals, people thought something was wrong."