Ill. Senate approves ethics bill

September 22, 2008 8:24:35 PM PDT
On the same day Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich ordered a legislative special session on ethics legislation, questions have been raised about campaign contributions the governor received. The money came from Ali Ata, who pleaded guilty to felony charges for tax evasion and lying to federal agents. The governor says he's looking into why his campaign never returned the money.

The Illinois senate voted unanimously Monday, 55-0, to ban pay-to-play politics in the governor's office beginning next year, which means the awarding of lucrative state contracts to the biggest campaign contributors. Now, someone with a state contract worth $50,000 or more will be barred from donating to the official who awarded the contract.

Blagojevich had vetoed the bill earlier this summer, saying it was unfair to impose ethics legislation on him and not other politicians. He wanted comprehensive reform, but the house overrode the bill this summer and now, so has the senate.

"If he wants us to follow his lead, he should stop leading everyone to the federal penitentiary. It is time to end the charade. Quit wasting taxpayers' money," said State Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Woodstock.

Most of the Illinois house members say they are extremely skeptical for the governor's call for comprehensive ethics legislation because the proposal is very controversial. Blagojevich himself is under multiple federal corruption investigations and still hasn't returned $65,000 in campaign contributions from former state official Ata.

"He has not returned a single penny of the money that Ali Ata gave him. This is a man who pled guilty to buying his state job," said Franks.

Blagojevich claimed Monday morning to be unaware of the Ata campaign cash.

"We are going to look into this," he said. "I haven't paid attention to it. We are going to work through the process and sort it out."

"There is still a lot of gamesmanship going on on the senate floor. I don't know what the Democrats are up to," said State. Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.

"This is bigger than the governor; it's bigger than any other legislator. Illinois, Chicago, Cook County has been under ethics scandals for so long, (that) we have to take drastic action," said State Sen. Rickey Hendon, (D) Chicago.

"But like with every piece of legislation is significant, you should have a chance to read it and get input from public witnesses. That is all I am saying. We shouldn't rush to judgment on this. We should take our time," said State Sen. John Cullerton, (D) Chicago.

A senate committee is going to consider the governor's other sweeping ethics bill that would affect virtually everyone in the state's political world. But it is unlikely to pass the senate and the house over the next few days. There are many criticisms of the way the bill was drafted, and it is also thought to be very punitive, aiming the harshest measures at some of the governor's harshest political critics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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