Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tollway Revolving Door Opens Ethics Questions

Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Director Brian McPartlin announced today that he is leaving the tollway and taking a job with McDonough Associates. McDonough Associates is a major Tollway contractor; their contracts in FY09 (ie, in the last three months) total more than $20 million, significantly more than any other year since FY05 and nearly triple the value of their FY08 contracts.

If you think this looks awful, we agree.

The 2003 Ethics Act contains provisions intended to shut the revolving door between state officials and their contractors by prohibiting employment with a contractor for one year after leaving the state agency. McPartlin says he received a waiver from that prohibition. According to the law, the Executive Ethics Commission "shall … grant… [a waiver] upon a showing that the prospective employment or relationship did not affect" the issuance of contracts.

So what to do here? Let's start with some questions. When did he start a job search? Did he approach this company or did the company approach him? Has he negotiated with other firms? When he began talks with this company, did he notify his board and remove himself from any Tollway matters with the firm? When did he get the waiver? Were any contracts awarded after he applied for the waiver?

But it seems we should also take another look at the 2003 Act. ICPR has supported Sunshine in Ethics laws in the past, and we continue to think that the 2003 Act ought to be tweaked to give the public more confidence in how the law is carried out. Currently, the EEC does not disclose who applied for waivers, or even who got them. The law greatly limits what the two Ethics Commissions can tell the public about their work. While this is appropriate at the time of an allegation, we continue to think that the Commissions should be able to say more about final decisions.

It may also be wise to give the Commissions more discretion when considering to grant waivers. That "shall" in the statute doesn't give the Commissions room for deliberation.

The 2003 Act was a gigantic leap forward for the state, but it was not the final word. It's been amended at least four times since it was enacted. McPartlin's departure shows it may be time for another tweaking.

Monday, September 22, 2008

ICPR WELCOMES REJECTION OF GOVERNOR’S VETO OF PAY-TO-PLAY REFORM LEGISLATION

The Illinois Senate on Monday rejected Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto of House Bill 824, legislation banning political contributions by state contractors to the officeholder awarding the contract. Because the House previously voted overwhelmingly in favor of overriding the veto, the Senate approval is final action, and the original bill will become law on January 1, 2009.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) released the following statement from Cynthia Canary, Director of ICPR:

“So many big campaign contributors have wound up with state contracts that Illinois has won a reputation as a state where you have to pay a campaign fund to win a government contract. Over time, pay-to-play schemes seemed so numerous that some honest contractors stopped trying to do business with state government, driving up costs to taxpayers and making Illinoisans question the honesty and fairness of their state government.

“By enacting these reforms, the General Assembly has made it much more difficult for pay-to-play to flourish. Unethical officeholders and contractors still will look for ways to game the system, but better rules will be in place to police contracting and to make it more difficult for favors to be awarded in exchange for campaign funds.

“More must be done to improve the fairness of Illinois elections and government. There should be reasonable limits on the amount of money anyone can give to all political candidates. We need improved disclosure of lobbyist activities and enforcement of laws regulating lobbyists. We should lessen the influence of special interest money in judicial election campaigns. We should strengthen the enforcement of campaign and government disclosure laws.

“The reform community greatly appreciates the perseverance of the sponsors of HB 824, the support of most of the leaders of the General Assembly, and the commitment of five of the six statewide elected leaders. The General Assembly has listened to the people of Illinois and enacted much needed pay-to-play reforms. We now need to work together to build on that reform and do more to improve the integrity, accountability and transparency of state government.”

# # #

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Senate to Reconvene: Emil Jones

We've been asking you to call the Senate President's office and demand that he reconvene his chamber. It appears your calls have worked. Media reports now indicate that the Senate will reconvene next week. Thanks to your efforts, the Senate will have an opportunity to address the Pay to Play bill, among other things.

Now, we should apologize to those of you who tried to call the President's Chicago office. Some of you called to let us know that no one was answering. Your calls filled his voice mail. But those calls worked. President Jones says he's doing this for his "my friend" and former colleague, U.S. Sen, Barack Obama. But make no mistake, if all of you had sat silently, this session would not be happening.

Not to be left out, Gov. Blagojevich then announced a Special Session for Monday the 22nd at 1 pm to deal with "real ethics reform." So the ball is definitely rolling.

We thank you all for speaking up to protect this important legislation from almost certain death or legal challenge.

Now, on to Springfield!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reconvene the Senate Now

To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, Monday saw the most extraordinary collection of talent and knowledge gathered in one room since Thomas Jefferson dined alone. Now, it's your turn to take action. Please call Senate President Emil Jones and urge him to reconvene the Senate. Here's why:

At Monday's press conference in the James R. Thompson Center, those gathered at the podium included Comptroller Dan Hynes, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Lt Gov Pat Quinn, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Sen. Don Harmon, Sen. Debbie Halvorson, Sen. Terry Link, Sen. Susan Garrett, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, Sen. Ira Silverstein, Sen. Kirk Dillard, Sen. Christine Radogno, Sen. Matt Murphy, Sen. Bill Brady, Sen. Pamela Althoff., former Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, ICPR Director Cindi Canary, BGA Director Jay Stewart, Citizen Action Director William McNary, Citizen Advocacy Center Director Terry Pastica, Illinois PIRG Director Brian Imus, League of Women Voters of Illinois President Paula Lawson, and the Rev. Al Sharp, the Director of Protestants for the Common Good.

What brought all these people together was one simple idea: The Illinois State Senate must immediately reconvene to address HB 824, the pay to play bill. Now, not later. Not after the Election, and certainly not more than 15 days since the House sent HB 824 back to the Senate to override the Governor's veto.

Waiting invites legal challenge. The state Constitution says that if either chamber takes longer than 15 calendar days to act on a veto, the underlying bill dies. Senate President Emil Jones claims the 15 day clock does not start running until the Senate reconvenes, but that argument has never been tested in court, and we do not want the pay-to-play bill to become the test case. Why let reform be tied up in court for years? Indeed, why wait at all? The message that united all of those elected officials and public advocates was simply this: reconvene now.

Here's some press coverage on the conference, from Crain's Chicago Business, the Chicago Sun-Times, the
AP via the Tribune, and the
Kankakee Daily Journal. And some editorials, from Bloomington Pantagraph (Today) the Rockford Register Star (Today), the Chicago Tribune (Monday), the Belleville News Democrat (Today), and the Jacksonville Journal Courier (Today):

Now it's your turn. Please call the Senate President at either 217-782-2728 or 773-995-7748 and tell him to bring his chamber back into session. His members want it. The public deserves it. Why wait?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dr. Blagojevich, you’ve created a monster!

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been called a lot of things, but The Peoria Journal Star may be the first to equate him with the mad scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

In a September 4th editorial headlined “Governor creates monster of an ethics bill,” The Journal Star says the General Assembly should override the governor’s amendatory veto of House Bill 824, which would prohibit everyone with large state contracts from making campaign contributions to the officeholder awarding the contract.

The editorial criticized “Dr. Blagojevich” for proposing major changes that should be debated but not forced on the General Assembly. “When he was done doctoring HB 824, it looked nothing like the original – instead becoming an amalgam of extra parts. Basically, Blagojevich stitched together the Frankenstein of ethics reform. Now he’s unleashed his clumsy creation on Springfield.”

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform agrees. This monster needs to be killed with an override by the House and Senate. If this creature isn’t killed, it could destroy the negotiated agreement to discourage pay-to-play contracting.

The editorial is timely because the House will be back in session next week to consider leasing the State Lottery as a funding mechanism for a multibillion-dollar construction program, and the amendatory veto of HB 824 also may be called for a vote. Before the General Assembly agrees to any new capital plan, it should make certain that the pay-to-play safeguards of HB 824 are in statute.

The Peoria Journal Star is one of many newspapers calling for an override of the veto of HB 824.

Although the others didn’t compare Gov. Blagojevich to Dr. Frankenstein, most were just as blunt in describing his veto and his executive order to extend the contribution ban to the legislative branch, state political parties and any officeholder, regardless of what office awarded the contract,

Here’s a sampling.

The Rockford Register-Star: “Legislators have vowed to override the Blagojevich veto. They should do so, and quickly. No more shams from the Flimflam Man!”

The Southern Illinoisan: “The governor blew it. He could have affixed his signature and shared in the credit for a change for the better in Illinois.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “With a 60 percent vote in both houses, the General Assembly can override an amendatory veto and pass the original bill. Legislators should do so promptly. The people of Illinois are tired of crooked government.”

The State Journal-Register: “In the first half of 2008 alone, Blagojevich received $238,500 in campaign contributions from businesses or employees of businesses that have contracts worth more than $50,000 with agencies under the governor’s control, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. 
So forgive us if we take the governor’s sudden reform movement — and his impulse to author radically new ethics and fundraising legislation — with a grain of salt the size of Lincoln’s Tomb. We hope the legislature does the same this fall and restores the ethics and campaign finance bills to their original form.”

The Decatur Herald & Review: “. . . the governor's action shows he's really not interested in ethics reform.”

The Moline Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus: “The amendatory veto message he signed last week dripped with hypocrisy. This is, after all, the governor who spent months enriching his campaign chest with money from state contractors. Now he wants to ban such contributions?”

The Chicago Sun-Times: “Being governor, it turns out, doesn't give anyone the right to rule by fiat. That's especially true when you risk constitutional challenges that can force the state back to square one.”

The Chicago Tribune: “It's not a perfect bill, but it's a solid bill that this page has repeatedly urged the governor to sign. Just as we now urge legislators to override his veto of it. As is, the people of Illinois stand confronted with more of the Blagojevichian antics that have made him so untrustworthy. Rather than push legislators to write his "improvements" into law, he'd rather grandstand for the cameras, make noise about reform, and hope that—with public attention focused on the Democratic National Convention in Denver—nobody is paying much attention to the culture of political sleaze back home in Illinois.”



Well said.