Panel prepares blue print to fight corruption

April 9, 2009 (CHICAGO) The Illinois Reform Commission has until the end of this month to finish its blue print for reform. One of the suggestions: to change the law so that local prosecutors can go after corrupt public officials.

Local prosecutors in Illinois are often criticized for doing too little in the fight against public corruption, and for relying on the feds to carry the ball.

The counter to that is the federal government has deeper pockets, and that state's attorneys throughout Illinois are handcuffed by state law from the Dark Ages.

The reform commission wants to change the law to give the locals a crime-fighting tool the feds and most other states already have.

Over the years, the parade of public officials convicted of corruption has gone through the federal court system. That's due in large part to federal laws that make it easier to wire up a cooperating witness and then set the stage for more extensive wiretaps.

"Illinois is one of only three or four states around the country where our law enforcement agencies can do neither," said David Hoffman, Illinois Reform Commission member.

The Illinois Reform Commission wants a change in state law to make it easier for local prosecutors to use secret recordings in political corruption cases.

"These reforms have safeguards, and they have been used in other states and the federal government for generations," said Jack Blakey, Cook County State's Attorney special prosecutor.

The Attorney General says she supports the idea of corruption-fighting legal tools for local prosecutors. And while there's not yet specific language in a bill, the Governor says he, too, supports the concept.

"The federal government has it. I think we should have a well balanced law in Illinois that mirrors federal law," said Gov. Pat Quinn.

The so-called "one-party consent" issue - is one of many recommendations this commission will have when its 100 day mission concludes at the end of this month. Many of those recommendations - dealing with pay to play politics - have already been made. But what the members want to know is whether their proposals have a real shot at becoming law or are they destined to be dust-collecting historical footnotes.

On that score, the commission chairman on Tuesday pressed the governor who appointed him.

"It's your commitment you'll do all in your power to get in a vote up or down on the ideas we've presented?" asked Pat Collins, Illinois Reform Commission chairman.

"Yes. One by one by one. That's our goal isn't it," answered Gov. Quinn.

The governor says that all the commission's recommendations will get a fair hearing. While some of the proposals may not become law, the commission's overall work, he says, is a historical blue print that will lead to new public corruption fighting law by the conclusion of this legislative session at the end of May.

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