Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I Owe, I owe...

Lest anyone think we’ve been picking on Rep. Calvin Giles, know that there are several sitting legislators and potential candidates who owe fines to the State Board of Elections and who might face ballot forfeiture if they don’t pay those fines by January 19th, when the State Board of Elections is due to certify the ballot for the primary election. It's not that Giles is alone, it's just that Giles owes more than all others combined.

Rep. Giles owes $144,000 in outstanding fines. But others are on the list, or could be by certification. Rep. Patricia Bailey owes $6,200 in fines. Rep. Mary Flowers owes $100 in fines. Three others -- Rep. Jack Franks, Rep. Robin Kelly, and Sen. Don Harmon -- have matters before the Board and may owe fines come January, but they still have pending appeals that might get them out of trouble. (Rep. Deborah Graham, who was on the list as of the last meeting of the Board, paid her fines the day of the meeting). (Rep. Bailey may have other problems)

One assumes that incumbents who face re-election next year will file to run, but the law applies to all candidates, incumbents and challengers alike. Nobody knows who will file next month, but two candidates who lost in 2004 are on the list: Derrick Prince, who took 25% of the Primary vote against Rep. Marlow Colvin, owes $3,250, and Thomas Morris, who garnered 23% in the General against Rep. Lou Lang, owes $1,800.

State law forbids the Board to certify to the ballot the name of any candidate who owes fines. Time will tell who files and is left on the list in January.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Respect for Voters

Mike Lawrence, who runs the Paul Simon Public Policy Center at SIU and was a panelist at our Most Powerful Voice in America conference earlier this month, offers some forward looking suggestions for improving media coverage of elections in his syndicated newspaper column. Imagine a campaign where voters get “blueprints instead of bromides and candidate comparisons instead of contorted commercials”. Where candidates seriously debate issues like taxes, education funding, drug addiction, economic development, and access to health care. Where simplistic pledges to do this or that are eschewed in favor of a thoughtful acknowledgment that all decisions have costs and consequences. How do we get that kind of campaign? Read the column.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Minow on the line

Posting will be lite this week due to the holiday, but if you missed The Most Powerful Voice in America last week, the Illinos Channel has posted the keynote event on-line. The conversation between Carol Marin and Newt Minow can be viewed in the comfort of your own computer.

Chicago area residents can watch the whole thing when CAN TV21 broadcasts the event on Saturday, December 3 at 8 pm. Or, tune in to CAN TV 19 on Thursday, December 8 at 9 am.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Big Media Conference

TV viewers, reporters, academics, station staff and a few politicians gathered at the Gene Siskel Film Center yesterday to discuss The Most Powerful Voice in America: How Candidates and Voters Speak to Each Other Through the Media. Many thanks to all the people who helped make this event happen, including the speakers and panelists; Newt Minow and Carol Marin for creating an informative and entertaining keynote conversation, Thom Clark at the Community Media Workshop for logistics and the Stuart Family Foundation and the Joyce Foundation for underwriting some of the costs.

If you missed the event, it will be broadcast on CAN TV21 at 9 pm on December 3, and CAN TV19 at 9 am on December 8. The program will also be distributed through the Illinois Channel, and may be available for download (we’ll let you know when and where). And be sure to check out Carol Marin’s piece about the event in today’s Sun-Times.

But wait! There’s more! For a taste of what may be to come, read these on predictions of national spending on political ads next year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

First Past the Post - Updated!

With a flourish of his pen, Gov. Rod Blagojevich made HB 806, the ALLKIDS insurance plan, the first runner in our “Tortoise and Hare 2005” to become law. ALLKIDS (Henceforth PA 94-693) was filed on a Tuesday, passed the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Thursday. Then it waited 19 days while the governor “reviewed” his proposal to see if it was worth signing. It was, and it is first past the post.

But ethics may yet move in the legislature. The GA reconvenes in January for the Spring session, which is scheduled to run through April 7. And there’s a late entrant on the ethics front: SB 595 was filed in the Senate the day before the veto session ended. So while the Veto session goes to the rabbit, hope springs eternal that the legislature will nudge the turtle along by considering substantive ethics and campaign finance improvements.

Update: ICPR's web guy put all the Tortoise and Hare images together to make an animated race. Note that ICPR is a non-profit, so this is extremely low-budget; probably shouldn't actually call it "animated", but it's fun just the same.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Gavels and Ballot Boxes

Judges are the final stop in the line of checks and balances, and so they occupy a sensitive place in our form of government. Federal judges and judges in a dozen or so states are appointed. In most states, judges are elected. Whenever someone gets upset with the judiciary, you can be sure that how judges are chosen can also become sensitive.

Judges in Illinois are elected, and the trend in judicial races is making some people wonder if these elections aren’t a lot like a three ring circus. Last year saw candidates' supporters dumpster diving and mud-slinging. Special interest groups ran most of the ads, hijacking candidates’ public outreach efforts. And voters can seem arbitrary: Pennsylvania voters this week turned out their Chief Justice in outrage over a pay increase, which has nothing to say about the quality of his rulings and which he didn’t even vote for. As messy as elections are, isn’t there a better way?

Appointed systems are controversial in their own way: polls and elections show that voters are very reluctant to give up their right to choose judges. If there’s one rule voters take to heart, it’s Winston Churchill’s dictum that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Elections don’t have to be as messy as they have been, but the early signs are not good for Illinois’ 2006 races. It’s too soon to tell for certain whether the circus is coming back to town, but the clowns are beginning to line up. With a year to go before next General Election, let’s hope that judicial campaigns take 2004 as an object lesson, not a roadmap. Or maybe we should start this campaign with a discussion of alternatives to the current system of privately-funded campaigns?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Have Ya Ever Noticed - Career Patrons

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which runs this Blog, also runs the website. ICPR tries to help people better understand how campaign finance works, so this post will highlight some of the cool things on, ICPR’s website. Like the career patrons. ICPR was the first group in the country to put state-level campaign financial data into an on-line, searchable database, and ever since, we’ve been trying to make campaign finance easier to understand. One of the ways we do that is by posting career patrons. Career patrons are the top lifetime donors for the six elected statewide constitutional officers, and the four legislative leaders. If you want to know who has given the most to any of these public officials, not just last week or last year but since they first ran for office, click to the career patrons page.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Most Powerful Voice in America

ICPR is pleased to announce that U.S. Senator Dick Durbin has agreed to join by video our media conference, “The Most Powerful Voice in America: How Candidates and Voters Speak to Each Other Through the Media”. If you’re interested in broadcasters, elections, or coverage of political issues, then you should join Carol Marin, former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, the Chicago Reporter's Alysia Tate, Salim Muwakkil, Mike Lawrence, and others at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Tuesday, November 15. Click here to register.

Who's Up, So That Cohen's Down

Our phone rings and we answer it. Yesterday, Eric Zorn of the Tribune called to ask for our take on the nomination of former CUB Director Martin Cohen to head the Illinois Commerce Commission. The Illinois Senate rejected Cohen’s nomination on a 28-22 vote, with nine voting present. The partisan split was fairly even: Democrats voted 14 in favor and 9 against with 9 voting present while Republicans voted 14 in favor and 13 against. The most striking split, it seems, was based on when senators were facing re-election. Forty-two senators will be on the ballot next year, either because their seat is up or because they’ve declared for higher office. Those voted 22 in favor and 14 against, with six voting present. Those not on the ballot next year voted six in favor and eight against, with three voting present. That deficit in the not-on-the-ballot-until-2008 crowd made a real difference in the outcome.

Here's a list of who's up when, and how they voted:

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Real Cost

A recent Tribune article explored conflicts of interest in one of America’s most sensitive public positions: restaurant critics. It seems some of our nation’s most prominent arbiters of fine dining accept free meals and other gratuities from the same restaurants they review and rave about. “The people who suffer are the readers,” said one journalism professor. “If they didn’t have to pay for the meal, you can’t be sure the reviewers’ loyalties truly lie with the reader.”

We couldn’t have said it better. And the same holds true in politics. When lobbyists put on the full-court press, with meals, gifts, trips, and campaign contributions, voters had better make sure that their public representatives are still representing the public. That’s why disclosure is so important – it lets voters know where to look for conflicts. And it’s also why every other state in America has some restrictions on campaign giving to candidates. Most limit giving across the board. Some also bar giving by regulated industries, state contractors, corporations and unions.

So when a lobbyist says to a public official, “I read about a great new restaurant; howzabout I buy you dinner?”, everybody had better pay attention.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Beatings will Continue Until Morale Improves

Legislative calendars have been released for the Spring Session. They’re available on line, here for the House and here for the Senate, but here’s a summary of the key dates. Both chambers have adopted substantially the same deadlines; exemptions are noted:

LRB Deadline: January 6
Session Starts: January 11
State of the State: January 18
Filing: January 20 for Senate, January 27 for House
Budget Address: February 15
Committee: February 17
Floor: March 3
Other Chamber Committee: March 24
Death March Begins: March 27
Other Chamber Floor: March 31
Sine Die: April 7

Hat Tip: Cap Fax

Other Important Dates for the Next Four Months:

Candidate Filing Period: December 12-19
Special Judicial Filing Period: January 3-10
Ballot Certification: January 19
Semi-Annual Reports for Latter Half of 2005 Due: January 31
A-1 Reports Due: Beginning February 20
Pre-Election Reports Due: March 7 (for the period January 1-February 19)
Primary Election: March 21

DeLay Shows the Way to Public Financing

In the ongoing saga of finding a judge to preside over the trial of indicted former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, we are faced with the ugly reality of how our government, including the justice system, is tainted by campaign giving.

Only days ago, DeLay’s attorneys argued that the judge selected to preside over DeLay’s trial for money laundering of campaign funds could not be fair-minded and impartial because the judge had previously contributed to Democratic campaigns.

In reply, state prosecutors essentially argued the exact same point about the Republican judge who had been appointed after Judge #1 was removed. Guess what? Judge #2 is off the case as well now.

So, here’s an idea. Remove the need for partisan alignment in judicial campaigns by providing a system of public financing. Think of the benefits – we can preserve the independence of the judiciary, encourage judicial candidates who couldn’t afford to run for office otherwise, and allow judges to get back to the business of hearing trials instead of scrounging for campaign cash.

And then guys like Tom DeLay will have to come up with another tactic to delay his day in court.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Hurrah for the Faceless AP Editors!

The House passed SB 1879, as amended, this afternoon without opposition. It’s essentially an ethics clean up trailer, with changes and clarifications to several existing statutes. On balance, it’s a good bill, though it lacks anything really exciting. So our cheers to the House for passing this, and also to the insightful editor at the Associated Press who titled the story on this bill “House approves small changes to ethics laws”

Lobbyists from the State House

Our phone rings and we answer it. Yesterday we got a call from the Center for Public Integrity, a DC-based think tank, asking about lobbyists in Illinois. They did a report a while ago rating state lobbyist regulations, and I’d guess they’re getting ready to update it. Their call was to ask about former legislators who are now lobbyists. How many could we think of? A lot, it turns out. We surprised ourselves by thinking of about two dozen right off the bat, and we’re probably missing a few. Not to mention former staffers who have stopped wearing shoes with laces.

Everybody has right to earn a living, but the public has a right to be concerned about conflicts of interest, especially among people who hold offices of public trust but have begun to think about their next career. Elections are supposed to focus officials’ minds on what their constituents need, and once they’re no longer looking to the next election, because they lost a general or, worse, a primary, or just decided to retire, their minds can wander from the public good. Too, there’s reason for concern with staffers who leave on Friday and return as lobbyists on Monday: what strategies are they carrying with them, and what did they do before they left?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Damned if you do...

The dust up over the nomination of Marty Cohen to the Illinois Commerce Commission highlights problems with Illinois’ Lobbyist Registration Act. Who is supposed to register, and when, and what are the consequences of registering? Or not registering? The public has a clear right to know who is trying to influence government decision, especially when those influencers are paid to work their contacts. But Illinois’ lobbyist law is a mash-up of afterthought, hindsight, and boilerplate.

What is “lobbying”? Under the Act, it’s "any communication with an official” that’s intended to “influence[e] executive, legislative, or administrative action.” Sounds pretty clear? Maybe, maybe not; after all, we’re talking about laws here. The rub is in the definition of “official,” which is limited to the statewide executive officers, their chiefs of staff, cabinet members, and members of the legislature. Who’s not on the list? It’s not clear that agency heads are on the list. Or agency staff. Or even legislative staff.

And that’s just in the definition. There are also a host of exemptions to the Act, designed to free people from registering when all they want to do is exercise their constitutional right to petition government. Experts who are invited to testify are exempted. Lawyers representing clients are exempted, but are clients, when appearing at an administrative hearing, exempt?

Now consider the consequences. It used to be that many registered to cover themselves, even when they planned on doing very little actual lobbying. Now, registrants are barred from serving on boards and commissions. For all that the Senate Dems are upset that Marty wasn’t registered, if he had, he’d be unable to serve, which might fit their goals just fine. In other words, he was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.

The dust up over the Cohen nomination shows that Illinois needs to rework its Lobbyist Registration Act. The first step is with a clear definition of what actions trigger registration.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Vast wasteland or great conversation?

You can stay at home and watch mindless television on Tuesday, November 15th, or you can come downtown to hear Carol Marin and Newton Minow talk about television. Minow, of course, is the former FCC commissioner who told broadcasters in 1961 that they were responsible for making television a "vast wasteland." Think about it. If you miss Marin and Minow, here's what you'll find at the same time on your local stations: The Young and the Restless, the Days of Our Lives, All My Children, and the Tony Danza Show, and . . . believe it or not . . . I Love Lucy. Come hear Newton Minow and Carol Marin reflect on television today and the role of television in election campaigns. If you just can't stand the thought of a day without Tony Danza, try TIVO. And Lucy....well, Lucy should always be on TV someplace. Click here for registration information.