Ethics commission targets Ill. legislature

April 28, 2009 3:47:37 PM PDT
A panel formed to help reform Illinois government delivered its report to Governor Quinn Tuesday. The Illinois Reform Commission was given 100 days to determine what is not working in the state government's ethics and practices and to make recommendations on how to fix it.

Not surprisingly, the reform commission recommends that Illinois limit the amount of money people may donate to politicians. Right now, Illinois is one of only four states without such limits, and the IRC called that the big reason Illinois is rife with corruption. The commission chairman called the situation so serious that ethics is a bigger issue than the state budget deficit and possible tax increase.

"Over and above the economy in Illinois, ethics and integrity in government is a bigger issue," said Patrick Collins, Illinois Reform Commission chairman,

After eight public hearings, seven town hall meetings and countless contacts between the 15 commissioners, they delivered their 88-page report to the governor in Springfield Tuesday morning. In Springfield, the governor appeared to agree that ethics reform should be job one, even in a state with an estimated $12 billion budget deficit.

"I think it's very important, this year, that we put the people back in and take the politics out," said Gov. Quinn.

"How can you talk about tax increases without talking about when there's 7, 10 percent of waste, fraud and abuse?" Collins said.

Quinn formed the commission when he was lieutenant governor, days after Rod Blagojevich was arrested, and weeks before the former governor was impeached and ousted from office.

The report recommends that campaign contribution limits would be set at $2,400 for individuals and $5,000 for political committees. Zero donations would be allowed for lobbyists. The goal would be to eliminate the influence of campaign fundraisers like the convicted Tony Rezko and the indicted William Cellini.

"We talk about giving the state and local prosecutors, such as myself, more ammunition, so to speak, better tools in order to the job when it comes to fighting corruption," said Anita Alvarez, Cook County state's attorney.

The commission also called on the legislature to pass a law limiting to 10 years the amount of time that could be served by a legislative leader. Collins denied the recommendation was aimed at Speaker Michael Madigan, the Democrat who has led the Illinois House for all but two of the last 29 years.

"The fact of the matter is, whether it's Madigan, Jones, 'Pate' Phillip, pick your name, anybody who stays to long is able to consolidate power under the system, and we think that in a democracy is bad, period," Collins said.

A spokesman for Speaker Madigan said he could not explain the motives behind the recommendation to limit the terms of legislative leaders. He pointed out that the recent scandals in Illinois government had been largely confined to the executive branch.

The State House and Senate have their own joint committee on government reform. No matter what the governor's commission recommends, in the end, the lawmakers will rewrite the rules if they are going to be rewritten.


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