Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ryan Appeal Denied

The US Court of Appeals has denied Gov. George Ryan's effort to gain a new trial on corruption charges, finding that "In the end, the evidence supporting the jury's verdict was overwhelming." And what was that overwhelming evidence?

• That Ryan personally participated in schemes to rig contracts for vehicle stickers and computer equipment, and leases for state offices in Joliet, Chicago, and South Holland;
• That Ryan lied to investigators about bribes paid in the form of vacations to Jamaica, and his role in quashing the original investigation into the sale of drivers licenses that contributed to the deaths of the Willis kids
• That Ryan evaded paying income taxes on his and his children's illegal payments in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998

Ryan's indictment in December, 2003 and his conviction in 2006 laid bare a broad scope of problems that continue to fester in Illinois politics. At the time of his conviction, ICPR issued a statement about "look[ing] beyond the Ryan verdict." We still think these areas deserve attention. Rather than focus on what went wrong in the past, let's figure out what to do in the future so that it doesn't happen again.

* 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.

* 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.

* Revise lobbyist regulations: Criminal shakedowns were cloaked with legitimacy by pretending the payoffs were lobbying fees. The public has a right to know more about what lobbyists are doing.

* Improve the 2003 Ethics Act: The Act, adopted before the indictment and trial, was a terrific starting point, but time has shown its weaknesses, particularly in regard to oversight of Inspectors General and the Ethics Commissions.

George Ryan has been held responsible for his actions and, it appears, will soon head to jail. Perhaps the sight of a governor behind bars will motivate Illinois' current crop of elected officials to take action before it happens again.

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