Commission seeks to fix 'pay-to-play culture'

March 31, 2009 3:18:23 PM PDT
A commission designed to bring political reform to Illinois released its first proposals to clean up state government and end pay-to-play activities. Tuesday, Commission officials released a sweeping blueprint for change within Illinois government. That includes caps on campaign contributions.

How far will the recommendations go?

This commission's charter gave it 100 days to put together recommendations to end the culture of corruption in Illinois. There is still time before its end-of-April deadline, but the commission wants to strike while the iron is hot. An indictment of former governor Blagojevich is expected this week, and the commission chairman feels that waiting a month might mean the pay-to-play debate would lose steam.

This commission has received thousands of cards and letters, hours of testimony in meetings across the state. Its recommendations for fixing the "pay-to play culture" in Illinois are, commissioners say, bold and ought not be piecemealed.

"This is not the time to rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. This is the time for meaningful, comprehensive reform," said Pat Collins, Illinois Reform Commission chairman.

Among its key recommendations:

  • put a limit on campaign contributions by mirroring federal limits -- $2,400 from individuals, $5,000 from special interest groups. Illinois is one of only four states with no contribution limits.
  • "The federal government has done it a long time ago. It has served us well. It's a step we can take. It's a step we can take easily," said Sheila Simon, reform commission member.

  • Ban contributions from lobbyists and trusts outright.
  • Move the state's primary election to June. A shorter campaign cycle would -- in theory -- require less fund-raising.
  • Require candidates to report their contributions of 500 or more within five business days. Today, a candidate who gets money in January, for instance, doesn't have to publicly reveal it until July.
  • Commission members say another huge problem is that the state's procurement officers who set up billions in state contracts are too often pressured to steer the contracts for political favors. The commission wants them in a single department with oversight and free of political interference.

    "Give them the power to make contract decisions. Give them the power to say no. Insulate them. This could have a dramatic role on the process," said David Hoffman, reform commission member.

    Most of the recommendations will require legislative approval. Collins acknowledges the commission doesn't have votes, but it does have a voice and it wants an audience.

    "I've always said inertia and quiet are the enemies of this process, and we have to turn on the noise in a productive way," said Collins.

    Collins and other members of the commission traveled to Springfield Tuesday to present their report to the governor, and they're also intent on meeting with House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton.


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