Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lobbyists Everywhere, Reform Frozen

The Tribune reports on today's front page on the number of former aides and current fundraisers for the governor who now are paid to lobby the governor. The numbers may be surprising. But what's not reported is how much these people are paid to lobby the guy they're also raising money for-- because that information isn't available. Once again, data that is public record in many other states and at the federal level, not to mention in Cool County and the City of Chicago, is not collected by the State of Illinois. It's hard to know how much of a conflict of interest the governor has when the public can't even see how much his ex-aides are billing.

A bill to correct this imbalance is now stalled in the House. HB 8 passed out of committee without opposition, and was amended to address concerns of committee members. Nonetheless, it sat on Third Reading for a month before being sent back to Rules last week. When the governor rails against lobbyists in Gucci shoes, part of the solution is to better regulate lobbyists.

Other reform efforts are similarly stymied. SB 222, to create a public financing alternative for judicial elections, is sitting in the House Exec committee, but has not been posted for a hearing. And HB 1, to end pay to play in state contracting, languishes in Senate Rules, despite unanimous support in the House and 44 (!) Senate Sponsors. The end of session package deal ought to include public integrity measures like these to assure the public that their money is being well spent for the public interest, and not merely because well-heeled lobbyists and overly-generous state contractors are paying the freight.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

RELEASE HB 1

The Decatur Herald and Review today editorializes in support of HB 1, the ban on pay to play contracting that passed the House unanimously and now sits in the Senate Rules Committee. The paper writes, "Illinois government has a terrible - and deserved - reputation for corruption in state government. House Bill 1 … deserves a hearing and a vote in the Senate. "

The H&R is the latest in a very long line of newspapers who have taken note of the Senate President's refusal to give this bill a vote. Yesterday the Daily Herald wrote "Jones should allow vote on contract bill." The Tribune urged passage, as did the Sun-Times, the State Journal Register, the Post Dispatch, the Southern Illinoisan, and the list goes on.

It's impossible to argue that the state gets better services by allowing contractors to give unlimited donations to the public official who oversees their contract. Perhaps that's why the Senate President's spokesperson suggested that they were holding the bill while working on language to make it even better.

This bill, however, has been sitting in the Senate for a month. The time for secret revisions is past. HB 1 is positioned to be voted out of the Senate and on to the Governor, and we call on the Senate President to let that happen.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Waiting for Lobbying Reforms

The Feds are still talking about lobbying reforms. It seems the contours are changing, but the prospects for reforms that move forward are still good.

Here in Illinois, the problems continue, as these two AP stories point out. Lots of lobbyists -- many with recent experience as legislators or staffers -- are taking contracts to represent private interests.

In most states, the public could know what those contracts called for, and how the lobbyists work was valued. But here in Illinois, our lobbyist registration system ranks 45th in the nation. A bill to fix that, HB 8, has been sitting on 3rd Reading in the House for nearly 4 weeks. Yesterday it received its third final action extension, to next Friday, the 25th. But when is the House going to move on reform? Will the feds once again act before we do?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Moving the Calendars

HB426, which changes the date of Illinois' primary election, has received a bunch of press coverage. Most of this has focused on how the new primary date may help the presidential aspirations of US Sen. Barack Obama.

But the measure does far more than that, as this story in the Kane County Chronicle suggests. Petitioning for all offices will start sooner than normal, for instance.

The bill also affects disclosure reports for state PACs (since Obama is a federal candidate and office holder, he doesn't file state disclosure reports). The main disclosure reports, the semi-annuals, will be due on July 20 and January 20 rather than on the last days of the month. Because the bill has an immediate effective date, reports covering the first half of this year will be due on Friday, July 20 -- eleven days earlier than normal (about two months from today).

The measure also eliminates pre-election reports for the primary election. Under current law, candidates must file pres covering the period beginning the day after the last semi until 30 days before the election, listing all donations over $150 and aggregating smaller donations. During the last 30 days, they have to file A1s, listing donations over $500, within two days. Because the primary for state and federal elections is so close to the end of the semi, the new measure starts the A1 period on January 1, the day after the semi, and does away with the pre (again, for state and federal primaries, not the odd-year municipals). As a result, the public won't know aggregate totals for smaller donations, or about donors of donations between $150 and $500 more than one month before the primary, which would have been reported (though that's a small window). But we will know about larger donors sooner than under the current law.

The State Board of Elections plans an education effort to let PACs know about these changes to the disclosure calendar, assuming HB426 is signed into law in a timely manner (if the signing is late, the Board may not have much time to educate PACs). These changes will take some getting used to, but we might as well start now -- they're permanent, and will be in place long after the Obama 2008 campaign is over.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lobbyists as Campaign Fundraisers

News comes from the national arena that Congress is considering lobbying reforms. The national lobbying regulation law is already stronger than Illinois, but the feds are now thinking about opening up the link between lobbying and campaign finance. According to the New York Times, the proposal would require lobbyists to disclose their role as bundlers -- people who collect checks for candidates and act as middlemen between donors and PACs.

Illinois' legislature is considering several reforms relating to lobbying. HB 8 would tighten disclosure requirements, bringing Illinois into line with most other states (not to mention Chicago and Cook County) by requiring lobbyists to disclose the terms of their contracts. The measure would also create a first-ever enforcement mechanism to make certain that lobbyists are registered properly. And it would shut the revolving door between most state employees and officials, barring them from lobbying their former colleagues until a cooling-off period had elapsed. HB 8 is on the House floor, waiting to be called for a final vote.

Language relating to bundling is also before the legislature. HB 3497 is generally seen as a limits bill, but it contains language to require disclosure of the role of bundlers in campaign finance. Bundlers would have to report which checks they collected, which would not count against their own limits. HB 3497 had a subject matter hearing, and we anticipate the conversation about limits will only intensify.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Banning Pay to Play

A bunch of editorials in the week shows how people outside the capitol view work under the dome. All too often, money seems to set policy. The quest for campaign dollars seems to drive contracts, leases, and other expenditures from the public purse, with the understanding that some of that public money will be kicked back to the public official's campaign fund.

This isn't how every contact is let, and there may be good reasons for choosing a vendor who has given large donations to candidates. But the stories happen so often, with such large amounts of money involved, and frequently with so little in the way of taxpayer benefits, that the time has come to regulate these transactions.

Two of these editorials are on line, and they're worth quoting. The St. Louis Post Dispatch this week called for reform, noting "Illinois government is notorious for corruption. Candidates for high political office attract contractors eager for state business who are willing to lay campaign contributions at their feet. Gov. Rod Blagojevich collected $234,000 from state contractors in the week before last November's election."

And the Chicago Sun-Times, speaking for the entire Sun Times News Group, also urges, " The Senate should move quickly to adopt the House bill."

Both of these papers note that a better solution would be to limit all giving, rather than just giving between contractors and contractees. And while we agree, we also support viable, consensus solutions. Discussions on broader limits can continue, but unless someone can prove that taxpayers get better services because vendors can make unlimited donations to the official who oversees their contracts, HB 1 ought to become law.