Wednesday, June 20, 2007

End Pay to Play Already

HB 1, the pay to play ban, passed the Illinois House without dissent on April 25th -- 8 weeks ago today. Since then, Senate leadership has left the bill in Rules. And they haven't done much else. They filed, but did not adopt, alternative language as an amendment to HB 824 on May 31, 3 weeks ago tomorrow. In the meantime, the House again passed language banning pay to play in an amendment to SB 1305, on June 14, one week ago tomorrow. And still the Senate lets the matter lie.

While Senate leadership has done nothing, individual Senators have taken action. 45 of them have signed as co-sponsors of HB 1 (apparently, it's the other 14 who are blocking action). Newspapers have taken notice. Every large daily in the state has editorialized in favor of HB 1 (a partial list is on ICPR's homepage). Some more than once -- today's Chicago Sun-Times contains the Sun-Times News Group's third editorial on the subject in two months. Yesterday's Crain's noted that the current system is bad for business. What is it that those 14 Senators don't understand?

Senate inaction is frustrating, and continued foot-dragging may prompt more extreme measures. The Decatur Herald & Review today cites inaction over ethics and campaign finance reform as a reason to support the call for a state Constitutional Convention. Illinoisans want to see their public officials doing what needs doing. Inaction by officials may result in more than just frustration outside the Capitol.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Standing in the way of reform

The weeks since our last post have proved the saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The House has, again, passed legislation to outlaw pay to play practices. Newspapers across the state, from Chicago to Bloomington, have editorialized in favor of HB 1. And the Senate has taken no action on any of the bills that would address the problem.

Below is the text of the latest editorial in favor of HB 1.

State Senate prez standing in the way of reform

June 18, 2007
Illinois Senate President Emil Jones is blocking a measure that could rein in "pay-to-play" politics in Springfield.

A bill that would restrict campaign contributions by people who do business with the state is bottled up in the Senate Rules Committee, a gas chamber for legislation Mr. Jones opposes. He won't allow a floor vote on the bill, which would bar those who have more than $25,000 in state contracts from giving campaign money to the officeholder who awards the contracts.
The Illinois House voted unanimously in favor of the restriction, and 45 of the state's 59 senators are co-sponsors of the bill Mr. Jones doesn't want called for a vote.

Mr. Jones is standing squarely in the path of a long-overdue reform. Illinois has earned a reputation as a state where government contracts are purchased through campaign contributions to the officials who dole them out. Under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the practice has reached new heights.

A series of scandals and indictments stemming from state contracting abuses seems to have finally awakened most of the state's lawmakers to the need for change. Mr. Jones, it seems, hasn't heard the news.

Mr. Jones isn't saying why he opposes the reform bill. But it's hard to imagine an argument that would justify the status quo. Corruption in state contracting costs taxpayers millions. The state pays more than it should when officials award contracts on the basis of clout. And when contractors are graded on the size of their campaign contributions rather than the quality of their work, the state often doesn't get what it pays for.

Pay-to-play politics also undermines public confidence in government and encourages voter apathy. Why should ordinary citizens participate in a process they perceive to be rigged in favor of insiders?

Banning campaign contributions by big state contractors would be a move in the right direction on both fronts. It would help address the state's chronic financial woes and give Illinoisans a reason to believe their state government works for them.

If only Mr. Jones would get out of the way.