Ethics Reform in Illinois
Throughout the spring legislative session, ethics has been the focus of the media, the Illinois Reform Commission chaired by Patrick Collins, the legislature, the Governor and many others. There was some significant success but there is also much to be done.
The issue receiving the most attention was caps on campaign contributions. There is legislation now awaiting approval by the Governor to, for the first time in Illinois, limit campaign contributions. It is by no means a perfect solution, but it is a significant start. Individuals are prohibited from donating more than $5000 per year to any political candidate and organizations (PAC’s, unions and corporations) are limited to $10,000 per year. There is also a limit of $90,000 per year on transfers between candidate campaign committees.
I was a co-sponsor of House Bill 24 which would have established lower limits – matching the contribution limits currently in effect at the federal level. These were the limits recommended by the Illinois Reform Commission chaired by Patrick Collins. But as happens with every piece of complex legislation, compromises were required in order to get something passed and on the books.
Many in the House did not accept the higher limits without a fight. I joined with Republicans and fourteen other Democrats in a parliamentary maneuver to force a vote on the floor on the lower limits in HB 24, but we were unsuccessful. It was then my decision that it was better to get something into law and fight in future legislative sessions to make it stronger, so I voted for the higher limits. Had we done nothing, I was convinced that in another year, with both the Blagojevich scandals and the Collins Commission report further behind us, there would be less media and public pressure to impose contribution caps and we would, yet again, end up with no reform at all.
I also believe that caps are not a silver bullet to keep money out of politics. We have had caps at the federal level for over thirty years and during that time, the cost of campaigns has continued to skyrocket. Nor is there any evidence that the influence of money in Washington DC has diminished. Nonetheless, I believe caps are important for keeping large donations out of politics so I will continue to fight on this issue.
The House also passed legislation to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2010 to allow the recall of a Governor. I was happy to support this measure. It is still pending in the Illinois Senate.
In addition to the fight over campaign contribution caps, the following reforms have also been passed and sent to the Governor:
Procurement Reform (Senate Bill 51) – Much of the scandal involving former Governor Blagojevich involved manipulations of state purchasing. The legislation we passed takes state procurement out of the hands of the Governor’s office and places it with independent procurement officers that are appointed by the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission and approved by the Senate.
Pay Raises for Elected Officials (Senate Bill 2090) – The House and Senate voted to eliminate the Compensation Review Board that previously set salaries for legislators and statewide elected officials. We must now take an up or down vote on future pay raises. We also rejected the cost of living adjustment that was to be added to our salary this year and required four furlough days.
Access to Public Records (Senate Bill 189) – We strengthened the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that governs public access to government records. For the first time, government officials must give a reason for denying access to records and there is a fine (up to $5,000) for illegally denying access to the records. The position of “Public Access Counselor” was also established to provide assistance to citizens in obtaining access to public records and mediate disputes over disclosure.
Ethics Investigations and Lobbyist Reform (Senate Bill 54) – This legislation gives the Executive Ethics Commissions greater authority to investigate complaints of ethical violations in state government and gives the public and the media greater access to information regarding those complaints and the outcome of any investigation. Lobbyists will also be required to disclose their clients and the amount they spend in attempting to influence governmental action – whether it is legislative or executive.
Government Transparency (House Bill 35) – Citizens will now have access to a searchable database with details on how the state spends its money. The portal will include information on the amount of the expenditure, purpose, agency of authorization and the performance outcome.
Issues still to be dealt with are:
· Moving the primary date to later in the spring or summer. I was the sponsor of House Bill 2308 to move the primary date from February to August
· Amending the Illinois Constitution to change the way legislative districts are drawn after the decennial census, and
· Term limits for legislative leaders.
I believe that the fight is not over and we will continue to battle on these fronts. As always, I welcome your thoughts and input on this and any other issue.