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Lawmakers working to pass ethics reform

May 28, 2009 2:58:20 PM PDT
The Illinois legislature faces difficult problems, including big budget deficits and tax hikes. Ethics reform is another important issue lawmakers are debating during this legislative session. The conventional wisdom in Springfield is that politicians here could not even consider, let alone ask, for a tax increase without first cleaning up their act. So perhaps that's the reason we are hearing about real movement Thursday afternoon on an ethics bill.

By early Thursday afternoon, reformers, Quinn administration and senate negotiators reported their progress to the chamber's executive committee. The crowded hearing room included a few private citizens who called the reform effort the most important work of this week.

"A healthy democracy in Illinois is going to take more than the same set of insiders doing their business the way they've done for the last 20 years," said Tom Lenz, reform activist.

The senate bill would put as much as a $5,000 cap on individual contributions, $10,000 on corporate, union and political action committee donations, and would set a $90,000 limit on the amount of money a legislative leader could give to the campaigns of members. The leaders also would not be allowed to contribute to primary campaigns.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Rodogno said the majority Democrat left a loophole allowing unlimited in-kind services donations:

"Before someone maybe could send $300,000 to a candidate, now they send $300,000 worth of services to candidate," said Christine Rodogno, (R) minority leader.

On another front, a house committee unanimously moved a bill to set a vote on November 2, 2010, to amend the Illinois constitution to allow citizens the right to recall or vote a governor out of office.

"We're trying to give the general public the ability of self-governance," said Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Marengo.

"When the voters see something going wrong in the office of governor, they shouldn't have to stand by helplessly," said Gov. Pat Quinn, (D) Illinois.

The Illinois Reform Commission wanted the contributions of legislative leaders capped at only $30,000. That the bill under consideration puts the cap at three times as much was upsetting to these citizen reformers.

"We're supposed to be satisfied as people, everyday citizens, because they will throw us a bone every so often. But the bone doesn't go far enough," said Judith Gethner, United Power.

Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, who led Governor Patrick Quinn's reform commission, told ABC7 the senate bill that's under consideration right now does not go far enough. He agreed there are too many loopholes, and he said there are not enough controls on the money that legislative leaders may collect and then distribute to their members, who they then could subsequently control.


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