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Executive Summary- Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) Converts Public Resources into Politics

Chairman | For The Good of Illinois PAC
June 24, 2012


An Illinois State agency responsible for the almost bankrupt College Illinois!® Pre-Paid Tuition Program spent tens of thousands in taxpayer money for political purposes.  243 pages of official state emails document activities of five State Agency Directors requiring state worker attendance at a political rally in Chicago where
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed Jesse Jackson, Jr. for Congress.


Read all 243 pages of official state emails– thanks to transparency, the emails reveal a non-accountable, unethical culture..

Top Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) officials including the Chairman, General Counsel, Executive Director, Managing Directors, Managers and Supervisors, in some capacity, approved, planned, required, coordinated, and/or attended the Saturday Forum held at Rainbow PUSH National Headquarters, Chicago, IL on March 3, 2012.  At this event, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed Jesse Jackson, Jr in a contested primary for Congress. Review ISAC RSVP to Rainbow PUSH for 76 government employees attending political rally.

See video of Jesse Jackson, Sr. introducing the ISAC at Rainbow PUSH Headquarters, Chicago on Saturday, March 3, 2012.  See video of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsing Jesse Jackson, Jr.  Review ABC-7 report & Chicago Sun-Times coverage of endorsement, here & here.

We estimate taxpayer cost of this political event at tens of thousands.
It’s illegal and an abuse of taxpayer trust and taxpayer dollars for Illinois State agency employees to be organizing state worker attendance at a political rally and paying for these state employees’ salary, hotel, meals, and travel expenses.

Now that we have started asking questions, an AGENCY COVER-UP APPEARS TO BE UNDERWAY:

12 requested e-mails were not released. Here’s the official reason:  “Please be advised that your twelve (12) e-mails within the scope of your request are being withheld as exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 7(q) of FOIA as they relate to disciplinary matters of agency personnel.

But here’s some of what we do know:

Attending the Saturday event, five ISAC Executive Directors each were approved for paid time. 
The five ISAC directors included:  Aimee Melgar, Director of Post-Secondary Planning Services; Jacqueline Moreno, Managing Director- College Access; Sam Nelson, Director Outreach Development Operation; John Samuels- Chief Marketing & Communications Officer; and ISAC Executive Director Eric Zarnikow. Click to review the time cards.

Total cost includes paid salary, hotels, meals, mileage, and other reimbursements.
ISAC travel vouchers show that 14 outreach workers cost taxpayers $3,459 in hotel rooms, per diem meals, and mileage (click chart).  Coming in from all corners of Illinois, 14 employees logged 4,734 round trip miles.  One worker logged 594 round trip miles from Southern Illinois!  A Manager plotted to use a state vehicle and coached an employee to use a “sick day”- when not sick– to attend event

Read ISAC Director Abel Montoya’s email requiring attendance for specific key ISAC employees to attend a political event for a politician who helps control their federal funding.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is an influential decision maker regarding ISACorps- a state program under ISAC funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Making matters worse, ISAC leadership attended the Rainbow PUSH pre-event planning session on Thursday, March 1stto plan the Nancy Pelosi visit to National PUSH headquarters. See PUSH invite & agenda. ISAC Director of Outreach Operations Abel Montoya was a confirmed attendee- review Montoya’s positive RSVP here. On his time card, Montoya was paid for eleven work hours.

ISAC Chairman Kym Hubbard gave explicit permission for Executive Director Eric Zarnikow to attend the political function.  Zarnikow asked the Chairman for guidance, “I was going to attend the following event … unless you are aware of a bigger picture reason that is not a good idea.” Chairman Hubbard’s permission came despite written notice and full explanation of event from Director Jacqueline Moreno. See e-mails here.

ISAC General Counsel Annie Pike – the agency’s top lawyer- signed off on Executive Director Eric Zarnikow’s attendance. 
Zarnikow asked Pike via e-mail, “… is it an appropriate thing for me to attend…” Pike responded, “I think it would be a good opportunity for you; the Corps are kind of ‘shadowy figures’ to most of us… a guerrilla group actually”. ISAC Chief Marketing & Communications Officer John Samuels weighed in, “I think… their work is precious and serves as a national model.”  And, then Samuels described the Corps as, “Alinsky radicals”. See entire e-mail chain here.

About Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC):  A state agency that administers many state and federal financial aid programs, including the College Illinois ® Pre-Paid College Tuition Program, Monetary Award Program, Federal Pell Grant Programs, and General Assembly Scholarships. Click for complete ISAC overview.

About ISACorps: Within ISAC, the main mission is to expand ISAC’s college access and outreach programs and services to help students navigate the process of applying to and entering college. ISACorps is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s College Access Challenge Grant Program. Click for complete ISACorps overview.

All linked information herein was received from ISAC via the Freedom of Information Act, click to read our FOIA.

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