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Simon, Topinka Trade Barbs over Pension Board Attendance, Campaign Contributions

(Chicago) – Judy Baar Topinka came under attack this week from opponent Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon over the comptroller’s attendance record at pension investment meetings.

Since being elected Comptroller in 2011, Topinka, a member of the Illinois State Board of Investment, which manages pension assets for state employees, General Assembly members and judges, has missed 17 out of 37 meetings, including “almost every” Emerging Manager Committee meeting where investments in businesses owned by women, minorities or people with disabilities are voted on and sent to ISBI for ratification, Simon’s campaign charged on Tuesday.

Simon’s campaign, which has struggled to get attraction against the popular Topinka, also criticized the comptroller for missing an Emerging Manager Committee meeting where State Street Global Advisors was tapped to manage a $450 million portfolio despite it being under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for overcharging clients and misleading investors about subprime mortgage investments.

At the time, Simon, who is badly trailing Topinka in the latest polling, says State Street was being sued by the state of California in a whistle-blower case, which contended the company overcharged two state pension funds on millions of dollars on trades. The state of Washington and a retirement fund for Arkansas teachers had also sued the bank.

“Comptroller Topinka calls herself a ‘taxpayer watchdog’ on her own campaign website,” said Sheila Simon campaign manager Dave Mellet. “But she can’t be bothered to show up at important meetings where investment decisions are made for billions of our state’s dollars”.

Simon also hit Topinka for attending a June 2011 meeting where she voted to approve a contract for a campaign contributor, Northern Trust Company.

“Prior to her vote, it was disclosed at the meeting that Northern  Trust and its leaders had donated $23,000 to her campaign account between 2005 and 2011,” according to a Simon campaign statement.

Topinka’s campaign fired back, denouncing the critique of her attendance record.

“It’s disingenuous nonsense from a desperate candidate,” Topinka spokesman Brah Hahn told The Illinois Observer in an e-mail. Judy has the highest rate of attendance of any elected official at Board of Investment meetings, Democrat or Republican”.

Hahn also denied that Topinka voted in favor of campaign contributor.

“And she has never voted on a contract involving anyone who has contributed to her campaign for Comptroller,” Hahn said. “In fact, she has recused herself on votes because a contract has involved a donor”.

Simon also noted that Topinka “skipped or sent” a proxy to every investment board meeting, policy committee meeting and audit committee meeting between 1995 and 2005.

Hahn called Simon’s charge “pathetic”.

“It’s just the kind of pathetic attack you’d expect from a losing campaign,” the spokesman added.

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