May 2, 2006
Dear Governor Blagojevich:
We’re fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the day you unveiled a proposal to limit campaign donations by individuals, to ban corporate and union contributions, to close the revolving door on legislators becoming lobbyists and to strengthen the enforcement powers of the State Board of Elections.
At the time, your critics said you weren’t serious about the proposal and that it was nothing more than “damage control” needed to reverse a slide in public opinion polls that followed weeks of news articles about terrible state audits and big contributors getting big state contracts.
Because you released the details of your proposal with less than three weeks remaining in the spring 2005 legislative session, legislators from both political parties questioned your commitment to passing the legislation.
To date, you’ve done little to prove your critics wrong.
Even though the presiding officers of the General Assembly are co-chairs of your re-election campaign and have helped pass your other major initiatives, your reform legislation hasn’t even been the topic of a legislative committee hearing.
A year ago, you told reporters: “The legislators will have a clear choice on whether or not they want to pass it or not. We’re going to do our best to try to pass it. We’ll keep pushing that. I think it will be dramatic and a significant reform.” We haven’t heard much from you since.
In February, 2006, you told the Chicago Tribune that the time wasn’t right. You said, "you have to pick your fights at the right time to get such legislation passed.” Our question is: if not now, when?
In the year since you promised to “rock the system in Springfield,” Illinoisans have been rocked all right, but not by your legislation. Voters have been exposed to the underside of state government. The federal corruption trial of former Gov. George Ryan showed what can happen in a government where special interests are able to give huge sums of money to political candidates and what results when there is no sunshine on the internal investigations that are supposed to be a safeguard against corruption.
The conviction of a former governor on 18 counts, including racketeering and lying to the FBI, should be more than enough evidence of the need to enact laws aimed at changing what you and others have called the “culture of corruption” in state government. Add to that Chicago City Clerk Jim Laski’s plea of guilty to accepting bribes; the ongoing Hired Truck investigations; and Michael Tristano’s plea of guilty to diverting at least $128,000 in state resources to political purposes while he was chief of staff to then Speaker of the House Lee Daniels and the evidence is overwhelming.
Now is the time to pass meaningful reform laws.
We have long supported your comprehensive package as part of our efforts to clean up Illinois’ political climate. We have also acknowledged the political necessity of taking incremental steps along the way to full reform. At a minimum, the General Assembly should pass the Government Integrity Initiative banning contributions from companies with state government contracts, creating a voluntary public financing system for Illinois Supreme Court elections, and strengthening lobbyist disclosure requirements.
When you set your mind to it, Governor, you have demonstrated how persuasive you can be in passing major pieces of legislation, including the ethics reforms of 2003.
Will you give your own campaign and government reform proposal the same dedication, the same commitment, the same degree of support? Or were your critics correct in saying this was nothing more than a cynical attempt to divert attention from your own fundraising practices?
Will you bring legislative leaders to the table this week and negotiate sweeping reforms that include the major elements of your plan from last spring?
What will it take to change the culture in state government? Do the people of Illinois have to wait until another politician is tried and convicted of wrongdoing, or is enough, enough?
We urge you to act now, and we stand ready to assist.
Better Government Association
Citizen Advocacy Center
Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
League of Women Voters of Illinois
Protestants for the Common Good