Commission sets out to tackle corruption

January 22, 2009 3:51:13 PM PST
The Illinois Reform Commission will make recommendations for reforming state government. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn set up the panel whose members include an elected official from Cook County, a former federal prosecutor and a major college football coach.

There are many public watchdog groups in Illinois that, over the years, have worked tirelessly to make government more responsive and responsible.

And yet the number of public officials who've gone to jail in the last two decades argues that corruption in government still flourishes.

Now comes another group with a mission as daunting as its title, and members remarkably diverse, from a neurosurgeon to a Big Ten football coach.

There is a college president, a state's attorney, a hospital executive who wore a wire in an extortion probe, and a father who lost six children as a tangible consequence of public corruption.

"I'm from out of state and I was asked to serve. I wanted to say that I wasn't really knowledgeable and I wasn't available but I realize that that's one of the possible contributing factors to the problem of why we're gathered here. Because it is about getting involved," said Rev. Scott Willis, Illinois Reform Commission.

They are 15 people from various walks of life who are now the Illinois Reform Commission set up by an executive order of the Lt Gov. Pat Quinn and headed by the former federal prosecutor who put George Ryan behind bars.

"I hope our report will lead people to say this is responsible and thought provoking and bold," said Patrick Collins, commission chair.

They have set themselves a tight timetable - 100 days - to look at what's broken in state government and make recommendations on how to fix it.

Steve Rauschenberger knows Springfield. He's a former state Senator who told the panel today that too few people have too much power, and too many people are content with the status quo.

"State governments very similar to ours work in other states. The level of corruption in the state of Illinois is unprecedented and unmatched," said Steve Rauschenberger, former state senator.

Several Commission members said on Thursday that the state has been embarrassed by current scandal, but that their mission goes far deeper than the case against Rod Blagojevich and a state governmental that has been dysfunctional.

Previous ethics reforms, commission members were told, have failed, and while their recommendations 100 days ahead may be sweeping, they will certainly focus on the campaign finance reform. Forty six states have limits on the size of contributions. Illinois is not among them.

"Every legislative session that adjourns without the enactment of sweeping forcible reform lends further credence to the cynical proposition that government does not operate on the square," said Dan Hynes, Illinois comptroller.

On this its inaugural meeting, the commission heard first from a couple elected officials, and then others on Thursday afternoon, but its intent is to invite comment from all walks of life through upcoming hearings, and through its Web site,

Whatever its ultimate recommendations, no one can guarantee they'll change anything, but the make-up of this committee is quite remarkable, and its leader, former prosecutor Patrick Collins, is know for getting results.