Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ICPR STATEMENT ON PAY-TO-PLAY LEGISLATION

Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, on Wednesday released the following statement in reaction to the announcement of an apparent agreement on legislative language to curb pay-to-play opportunities in Illinois state contracting:

“The reform community is encouraged by this agreement to combat the pay-to-play practices that have plagued Illinois for too many years. We commend all those who have worked toward consensus, and we urge swift passage by the General Assembly. State government contracts should be awarded on the basis of low prices and high quality performance, and contract decisions should not be based on big bucks contributions to a political campaign. By prohibiting campaign contributions by large contractors, Illinois can take a significant step toward reassuring the public that tax dollars are being spent fairly and the public’s business is being put first.“

Monday, April 28, 2008

Con Con Considerations: Party Affiliation

The November ballot will ask voters whether Illinois should have a Constitutional Convention. A Constitutional Convention would be authorized to review any portion of Illinois' Constitution they wanted to -- and to propose an entirely new document, amendments to existing provisions, or additions of new materials. All proposals from a Convention would have to be approved by voters at a subsequent election in order to take effect. Governmental powers, taxing authority, separation of powers, the rights of those accused of crimes, and of victims; any or all of this could be on the table.

Our current state constitution requires that voters answer this question at least every 20 years. It takes a majority of votes cast on the question, or 3/5 of all ballots cast, to call a Convention. If there is a Convention, then two delegates will be chosen from each of the 59 State Senate districts.

But the Constitution also leaves much to the General Assembly to determine. Others have taken a position on whether or not there should be a Convention, and even on what issues a Convention should address if it is called. This page is less interested in what a Convention might accomplish as in how it might work. ICPR has not adopted a position in support of or opposition to a Convention, but instead offers these questions about the nuts and bolts of running a Convention in order to prompt discussion and solicit consideration.

This is the first in a series.



Party Affiliation


The Constitution provides that there shall be two delegates elected from each Senatorial District and directs the General Assembly to make that happen. How that should happen would be up to the legislature.

On the one hand, party affiliation is the only identifier, other than a candidate's name, that appears on the ballot, and many voters use party affiliation to guide their selection processes. Many who seek to be delegates may already be elected officials, with a clear and proud history of partisan affiliation.

On the other hand, a Convention with partisan members will likely also have a partisan majority, and voters' perception of any product of such a Convention may be colored by their impressions of the party that dominated it.

Delegates to the 1969 convention were elected without party labels; all qualified candidates ran in a non-partisan free for all, and the top four vote getters then ran in a run-off; the top two were elected.


Should Candidates for Delegate Affiliate with a Party?

Monday, April 21, 2008

GOVERNMENTS SPENT $5 MILLION TO LOBBY STATE GOVERNMENT

CHICAGO AREA MASS TRANSIT AGENCIES HIRED 14 LOBBYING FIRMS AT COST OF NEARLY $700,000

Local governments and public agencies in Illinois spent more than $5 million to contract with lobbyists last fiscal year, according to “Governments Lobbying State Government,” a study by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).

In a first-of-its-kind research, ICPR identified 110 units of government with contract lobbyists and 65 lobbying firms working for government bodies in Fiscal Year 2007. Several of the governments hired multiple firms to provide advice and to attempt to influence decisions by the governor, state legislators and other state government officials.

“This $5 million of public funds is significant, but it is a small portion of the tens of millions of dollars spent on lobbying by hundreds of corporations, labor unions and other special interest groups represented by lobbyists in Springfield,” said Cynthia Canary, Director ICPR. “What the public doesn’t know is what special interests in the private sector are spending to try to pass or kill legislation and to impact actions in the executive branch.

“Through the Freedom of Information Act and the cooperation of dozens of public officials, we were able to research public spending on lobbying,” Canary said. “But a change in state law is needed to mandate similar disclosure by the private sector.”

The complete text of “Governments Lobbying State Government” is available at www.ilcampaign.org.


“The federal government and several other states require more public disclosure of private sector lobbying expenditures, but Illinois lobbying laws require far less disclosure,” said David Morrison, Deputy Director of ICPR and the lead researcher and writer of this study. “Some local governments, including Cook County and the City of Chicago, require more public disclosure about financial arrangements of lobbyists of local governments than the state requires of state-regulated lobbyists."

Some of the findings included:

• In the midst of legislative debates on mass transit reform and funding, the Chicago region’s four mass transit agencies had combined spending of nearly $700,000 with 14 different lobbying firms.

• The $223,600 devoted to four lobbying contracts by the Regional Transportation Authority was the highest of all government bodies surveyed. The Chicago Transit Authority was a close second, spending $220,173 with four lobbying firms.

• Municipal governments make up the largest segment of the government bodies with lobbyists on contract. The 43 municipal governments with lobbyists range in size from the City of Chicago (population 2,869,121 with lobbying contract payments of $127,257) to the Village of Cordova (population 651 in Rock Island County with $7,500 paid to a lobbying firm).

• Fees paid by governments to lobbyists were wide ranging. Monthly fees ran from a low of $750 to a high of $12,500. Typical payments were from $1,500 to $3,000 per month.

• There were several inconsistencies between information provided by local government bodies and lobbyist disclosure reports filed with the Secretary of State. Some governments reported having lobbyists, but the lobbyists did not report the governments as clients. Several lobbyists filed state disclosure reports listing local governments as their lobbying clients, but some of the units of government denied having any relationship with the lobbyist.

• The practice of a lobbying firm hiring other lobbying firms as subcontractors clouds the transparency of lobbyist disclosure requirements. This practice, which also is prevalent with lobbying on behalf of private sector clients, makes it difficult to discern who is lobbying for whom.

“Cities of all sizes, transit agencies, school districts and many other local governments have turned to professional lobbyists for a variety of reasons,” Canary said. “ICPR leaves it to local taxpayers to determine whether the lobbying services were necessary and whether the fees paid to lobbyists were fair.”

“Government Lobbying State Government” includes the following recommendations to strengthen the Illinois Lobbyist Registration Act:

• All lobbyists, whether representing a government or private entity, should be required to disclose the terms of lobbying contracts, including financial arrangements.

• All organizations lobbying state governments should disclose expenses related to lobbying, including salaries of in-house lobbyists and other administrative expenses.

• Lobbyists hiring other lobbyists as subcontractors should disclose whether the subcontractors are lobbying for all or only some of the main lobbyist’s clients. The entity hiring the main lobbying firm also should report representation by any subcontractor.

• Instead of acting primarily as the keeper of lobbyist records, the Office of the Secretary of State should be given the responsibility to enforce lobbyist disclosure laws. The Secretary of State should have the clear authority to audit lobbyist disclosure reports and punish violators.

• There should be a cooling off period between the time a government employee or official leaves public service and when that former employee or official is allowed to lobby his or her former colleagues.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Silly?

Political corruption in Chicago was so pervasive that a federal judge ordered payments of $12 million -- more than $4 for every living Chicagoan -- to make amends for past wrongs. The hiring monitor charged with overseeing reforms says the City is dragging its feet and that problems are still endemic. The city's inspector general agrees. Court-approved payments are going out to 1,424 people whose allegations of political discrimination had merit.

And what does Mayor Richard M Daley have to say about all this? He complains that one payment to one of these claimants was "silly."

Calling something "silly" is usually Daley's way of saying he doesn't want to answer the question. Silly apparently has a different meaning in the Daley dictionary than how most people use the term. But Webster's notes that an obsolete definition is "Harmless; innocent; inoffensive". That seems to be what the Mayor is getting at when he says something is "silly." Recall this exchange from 20 months ago:

"It's the silliest thing I've ever heard in my life. It really is silly. It's silly, silly, silly. It is just silly. Silliness. It is silly. Completely silly. . . . You've been on [the Skyway]. Come on. It's silly. . . . You know me. That is the silliest thing I've ever heard."

City employees at the federal corruption trial of mayoral patronage chief Robert Sorich had testified that they went out of their way to staff toll booths on the Skyway because that was the road Mayor Daley took to his vacation home and Daley didn't like avoidable traffic jams. Daley said the notion that city hiring would be skewed to favor his habits was "silly." Just the same, Sorich was convicted.

In any list of 1,424 things, a few outliers can always be mocked. Even if Jay Stone didn't deserve any payment, there are still another 1,423 recipients whose right to compensation goes unquestioned. When will Mayor Daley address the scope of political corruption that, by all indications, pervades Chicago's City Hall? The problems are many things: appalling, offensive, illegal. "Silly", no matter what the definition, isn't the right word for them, and the Mayor should start finding more effective response, in word and in deed.