Friday, April 28, 2006

ICPR Announces Paul Simon Public Service Awards

ICPR announced Wednesday that the 2006 Paul Simon Public Service Award will be presented to Mike Lawrence, Newton Minow and the editorial page of the Peoria Journal Star.

Sheila Simon, daughter of ICPR founder Paul Simon, will present the awards
at an event in Chicago on May 10.

-- Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at
Southern Illinois University, will be recognized for his contributions
to better government through a distinguished career in public service
and journalism. A journalist for 25 years, Lawrence was chief of the
state capital bureaus for Lee Enterprises and the Chicago Sun-Times,
and he continues to win high praise for his policy analyses appearing
on commentary pages of Illinois newspapers. He was press secretary
and senior policy advisor to Gov. Jim Edgar for nearly a decade.
Lawrence joined the Institute in 1997 as associate director and worked
closely with Paul Simon in developing the Institute into a "do tank"
working to improve government, rather than the "think tank" approach
of other policy institutes.

-- Newton Minow, a former Chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission, will be honored for his long commitment to improving the
quality of American broadcasting, including his efforts to increase
and improve issue-based coverage of election campaigns. Minow has
served as Chairman of the Carnegie Corporation and the Public
Broadcasting Service; served on numerous presidential commissions; co-
chaired the 1976 and 1980 presidential debates; and is a director of
the Commission on Presidential Debates. He is the Annenberg Professor
of Communications Law and Policy at Northwestern University and is
senior counsel in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin LLP.

-- The Peoria Journal Star editorial page will be recognized for its
consistent and strong advocacy of good government and campaign finance
reform. Editorial Page Editor Mike Bailey will be accepting the award
for the paper. For many years, the Peoria Journal Star has been a
tenacious watchdog of public funds, shining a spotlight on waste and
abuse, as well as praising good public servants. "Illinois has the
dubious distinction of being scandal-prone, but we also have an
abundance of excellent daily editorial pages trying to improve our
system," Canary said. "While we don't see eye-to-eye on every issue,
no one does a better job of holding the politicians' feet to the fire.
No one does a better job of asking the right questions, demanding
answers and giving readers a clear, keen perspective."

Simon, who died in 2003, founded the non-profit, non-partisan ICPR in 1999, and ICPR created the Paul Simon Public Service Awards in his honor in 2004. The award recognizes individuals and organizations who have made extraordinary contributions to civic life and public participation in the state of Illinois. Previous award winners are Dawn Clark Netsch and Abner Mikva.

The May 10 event will be hosted by comedian Aaron Freeman and will include a showing of odd and funny campaign commercials. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, at Fado Irish Pub and Restaurant, 100 W. Grand Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $50 with proceeds benefiting ICPR. Donations to ICPR are tax-deductible to the fullest extent permitted by law.

ICPR's work has included helping to pass and now monitor enforcement of the state's ethics law; researching and reporting of contribution and expenditure trends in elections; encouraging informed and issue-oriented debate in judicial elections; developing non-partisan, state-sponsored voter education guides; advocating increased and improved coverage of election campaigns by the broadcasters; and seeking passage of legislation to limit the influence of large contributors to political campaigns.

For more information, visit our website.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ethics Debate Today

Our friends at the Union League Club hosted a meeting this morning that was intended to wrap up the Spring legislative session. That session isn’t over didn’t dampen their turnout, nor the comments of their panelists: the Daily Southtown’s Kristen McQueary, the Rev. Sen. James Meeks, and Capitol Fax’s Rich Miller. At the end of the panelists’ comments, moderator and Roosevelt University professor Paul Green opened the floor to questions, and the very first question was from a gentleman (not me) who noted “the one word I haven’t heard any of you mention is corruption.” He wanted to know why that wasn’t higher on the agenda.

A good question, I thought. Not so, Prof. Green. He responded that ethics is not worth discussing because “nobody is opposed to ethics. No candidate is pro-crime." And with no opponents, there’s no discussion

Just because the discussion doesn’t fit your script, however, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. While we and some others have urged consideration of a host of reform ideas, some voices are saying no. They’re not saying “as the pro-crime candidate, I can’t support that”. They're saying, "There are already laws." They’re saying, “we’ve passed significant reforms...we believe that we need to take the time to let those reforms work." They’re saying, “there's not a huge appetite from any corner for real campaign finance reform” They’re saying, “It's clear the … bill won't pass. And if it did, it would actually kill any chances of comprehensive reform.” They’re offering up any excuse they can think of for not doing anything. Or they’re simply not letting the bills out of Rules.

But to say there are no opponents to ethics, just says you’re not listening. Let’s be clear: Illinois is facing a confluence of ethics investigations at all levels of government, in all parts of the state. Illinois needs new reform legislation now.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Leading Away from Ryan

Many newspapers, including here and here, and many legislators, here, here, and here, (but not here) have said that the Ryan verdict shows the need for further reform legislation. As we said at the time that it passed, the 2003 Ethics Act was a big step forward, but true reform was a long-term, incremental project. There are no silver bullets. But who will show the way?

Eric Zorn’s column today puts this question front and center. Where is the leadership that will make reform happen? Where is the Governor? One year ago last March, he pledged to rock the system in Springfield. Two months later, he put his proposals in writing as SB 1822, which has since been stuck in Rules, unable even to get a public hearing. When the Bloomington Pantagraph noticed a few weeks ago that his website didn’t list ethics reform among his priorities, spokesperson Doug Scofield backed away, saying "There's a lot of different interests in Springfield, and there's not a huge appetite from any corner for real campaign finance reform. We certainly saw that when the bill was introduced last session." Now, asked if the Governor supports a pay-to-play campaign finance package, another of the governor’s spokespeople, Rebecca Rausch, flips around to the other side, telling Zorn, that the proposal doesn’t go far enough and "would actually kill any chance of comprehensive reform."

Perhaps that’s also why the Governor never adopted rules restricting contractors from giving to his campaign, as Comptroller Dan Hynes and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley have done; is he concerned that might reduce the impetus for “real” reform?

The legislature is in session, but reform bills aren't moving. The Governor is so busy governing he says he hasn’t got time to file his taxes. The people of Illinois demand leadership on reform. What will the Governor do to make reform a reality during the Spring session?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

ICPR Looks Beyond the Ryan Verdict

George Ryan is guilty. Now what? As a state, where is Illinois now, and where are we going?

While the conviction of the former governor is likely the pinnacle of Operation Safe Road, what makes this series of trials different from previous scandals, from Silver Shovel to Haunted Hall to Greylord, is the methodical way that investigators worked up the chain, bringing indictments and securing convictions of dozens of low-level staffers. Not only did this tactic result in a stream of witnesses each implicating their directors in the higher pay scales, but it also made plain to entry-level grunts everywhere that they are responsible for their own actions.

Ryan led the team, and he had a clever, if unscrupulous, aide in Scott Fawell, but without the help of dozens of underlings, the enterprise would not have worked as well or for as long as it did. In the future every government clerk will have to ask if their superiors are directing them to do something that may be illegal. When higher-ups demand changes to RFPs that seem irrational or unrelated to the public purpose, they should think twice before complying. Managers and directors should think carefully about hiring people they believe to be unqualified, regardless of who recommends the applicant.

Let’s also remember what the U.S. Attorney hasn’t done. He has not explained the origins of $156,423.70 that Citizens for Ryan “discovered” in a previously undisclosed bank account, held at a bank where co-defendant Larry Warner was on the Board of Directors. We still don’t know who deposited that money, or when, or where the money came from. How was it earned? Who paid it, who received it, and why? Was more money deposited to that account but withdrawn before the campaign declared ownership of the funds? And if so, by whom, when, and for what purpose? Nor has he shown which lobbyists, contractors and politicos donated to the Friends of Ryan legal-defense fund that Ryan announced with an official press release while still living in the Governor’s Mansion. Now it looks like those questions may never be answered.

So what more needs to happen? Here are a few suggestions:

Revise lobbyist regulations: With the siting of the Grayville Prison, the contract for vehicle stickers and computer systems, and bids for McPier construction projects, criminal shakedowns were cloaked with legitimacy by pretending the payoffs were lobbying fees. Larry Warner, Alan Drazek, Don Udstuen, and Ronan-Potts were all convicted of illegal activity disguised as their constitutional right to petition government. The public has a right to know more about what lobbyists are doing, which officials they are meeting with, on whose behalf, and how much they are getting paid for that work. Dozens of states and even Cook County require more disclosure from lobbyists; Illinois now has both the opportunity and compelling reasons for doing the same

Improve the 2003 Ethics Act: Astonishingly, Inspectors General still answer to no one but the person who appointed them. While we have no reason to think that any of the current IGs seek to emulate Dean Bauer, there is nothing to stop them from doing so. IGs have yet to refer a single case to an Ethics Commission; every complaint has been dismissed or resolved internally. There has been no oversight, either by the public or the Ethics Commissions, to ensure that IGs are doing their jobs; and IGs can do nothing to demonstrate to the public that corruption is being properly addressed. Too, each IG sets his or her own standards for ethics training, with no input from the Ethics Commission, meaning that every constitutional office determines its own interpretation of the ethics laws and how its staff will be instructed to follow it. Uniformity should be the rule.

Tackle Pay-to-Play: Illinois still has no rules limiting how much state contractors can give to the campaign funds of the public officials who negotiate and sign their contracts. Corporate donations are completely unregulated, even though most other states and the federal government ban such giving, and nearly every state that allows corporate donations limits them. In Illinois, bidders on state contracts, their directors, officers and employees, and board appointees are all allowed to give as much as they can whenever they want to whomever will accept it. That should stop.

Adopt contribution limits: Illinois should join with nearly all other states and the federal government in adopting campaign contribution limits and banning direct contributions from unions and corporations.

The U.S. Attorney is limited in what he can do. He can subpoena witnesses, and he can call people before a Grand Jury. But he can’t bring an indictment all by himself, and he can’t convict the accused. Nor, obviously, can he put new laws on the books.

The fundamental problem here is the relationship between money and politics. That’s where the legislature and the public come in. Legislators have moved significant new laws in a very short time before, and the nearness of adjournment should not mean that reform must wait. Bills now pending in the Capitol will address lobbyist regulation, the Ethics Act, pay-to-play, a clean money option for Supreme Court candidates, limiting contributions from large donors, and a host of other pressing needs. Now is the time for Illinoisans to tell their representatives that actions speak louder than words.