Weaver pledged pork to private university, withdrew offer after reporter raised questions of a quid pro quo
PEORIA, Ill. (WCIA) — For more than five months, state Senator Chuck Weaver entertained an idea he could become the next president at Bradley University — a job he ultimately pursued — while he was simultaneously promising to use his position in the statehouse to give the private college public funds.
The Peoria Republican confirmed in a phone call on Wednesday that he formally applied on October 15th to become the next president at Bradley University. In a letter obtained by WCIA, Weaver informed local Republican precinct committee members that if the Board of Trustees appoints him to the lucrative post, he would resign from his seat in the state Senate.
His pursuit of the university position overlapped with a pledge he made to the current president in April to allocate a portion of his ‘member initiative’ money from the state’s $45 billion capital bill to Bradley University. Bradley President Gary Roberts announced his intention to retire the next month.
While Weaver voted against the capital infrastructure plan, he did so with the assurance he would be allowed to spend up to $3 million dollars on ‘pork’ projects, money that is intended for lawmakers’ home districts.
After he was confronted with questions about the appearance of a possible quid pro quo, Weaver huddled with a Senate Republican ethics officer Thursday night and reversed his decision. Weaver now claims he will no longer use a portion of his member initiative money to send to the private university he hopes to lead.
“I will not be giving Bradley any of my member initiative money,” Weaver said in an about face on Thursday night. “I’ve got to make the right decision ethically,” he said.
“I believe, without a doubt, this project at Bradley meets a public interest standard,” Weaver explained, “but once someone calls into question my ethics, I’m definitely going to be certain that I’m going to represent the constituents in my district, and I’m not going to do anything that would ever damage their trust in me.”
“In this matter, there was no connection in my mind between what I thought was really a great project to Bradley and the fact that I would love to have served them as president,” Weaver said. “Once the question is asked about whether or not there is any quid pro quo, I am not going to allow any appearance of impropriety.”
Senate Republicans are still in the process of compiling their list of individual preferred ‘pork’ projects, and the money set aside for Weaver’s district had not yet been earmarked or allocated to Bradley. Still, local party officials were offended by the initial appearance that Weaver could have been dangling public funds to land himself a promotion at a private university that sits outside of his district to the east.
“It’s my tax dollars being spent,” Henry County GOP Chair Jan Weber said. “There are many deserving projects within the district he represents.”
“A member can support an initiative outside of their district if the project impacts their district,” Senate Republican spokesman Jason Gerwig said.
Now, Weaver has pledged to forsake his initial plan, and instead commit the entirety of his member initiative money on other projects in his district.
While he seeks the approval of the Bradley Board of Trustees, he also seeks the backing of voters in his district. Petition signatures are due next month for Weaver’s name to appear on the 2020 ballot, so in case he has to vacate the ballot, he has a backup plan. While he’s still technically running, Weaver is simultaneously throwing his support behind a local businessman and ally named Win Stoller.
In a letter to local party officials, Weaver endorsed Stoller and heralded him as “a solid choice who I will support,” but also added, “I am not recommending him as the exclusive option to fill my seat.”
Weber, who heads the Republican party in one of ten counties in Weaver’s district, called his pitch “very unusual,” and said, “Whether there’s a vacancy in the state Senate or on the ballot, a process will happen and I believe the county chairmen will act in due diligence and select a candidate.”
Last month, Weaver hosted a number of party officials at his home and informed them of his plan and hand-picked his preferred successor. One source, who was in the room and asked not to be named, said Weaver’s pitch “went over like a lead balloon.”
“It’s not something, as a Republican, I would ever support,” Weber said, adding that Weaver’s muscle move reminded her “more of Cook County politics.”
Weaver responded that he was getting “pinned for doing things exactly right,” and insisted, “this isn’t Chicago politics at all. I don’t know how I could be more legitimate than what I did.”