Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ICPR HELPS ILLINOISANS BOOT BLAGO

REMOVE THE GOVERNOR AND ENACT MAJOR REFORMS

Illinoisans who want to give Gov. Rod Blagojevich the boot out of office can go to www.BootBlago.org for the latest information on the Blagojevich scandal and advice how they can help change the state’s political system.

“Like his predecessor George Ryan – aka Federal Inmate Number 16627424 – Rod Blagojevich is an embarrassment to the state of Illinois,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). “The arrest of Gov. Blagojevich on a variety of corruption charges has lit a fire under taxpayers. If he’s not going to resign, they want to boot him out of office.”

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) is redoubling its efforts to enact meaningful campaign finance reforms, and ICPR will help Illinoisans become advocates of the Governor Blagojevich's impeachment.

“Removing Gov. Blagojevich from office is not all that is needed to end the culture of corruption,” Canary said. “We have to reform the laws that now allow special interests to give unlimited amounts of money to campaigns, and we need to bring much more sunshine into the operations of state and local governments.

The fight can begin with a visit to www.BootBlago.org.

ICPR created the website as a tool to help Illinoisans unfamiliar with lobbying legislators and curious about the impeachment process.

Visitors to the website can write letters to Gov. Rod Blagojevich urging him to resign and can send letters to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn suggesting ways to improve the system. Visitors also can learn more about the reforms needed to make state politics and government more fair and honest and can link to ICPR’s website with a searchable database of campaign contributions to the governor, legislators and other candidates.

The reforms advocated by ICPR include limiting the size of campaign contributions, banning contributions by corporations and unions, prohibiting large transfers of campaign cash by legislative leaders to candidates, creating a system of voluntary campaign financing of judges, taking politics out of legislative redistricting, strengthening the State Board of Elections, toughening lobbyist regulation, requiring state officials to report more detail personal financial information concerning debts and investments, and making it easier to access public records through the Freedom of Information Act.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Warm, coal-fueled holidays

Lest anyone worried that our current governor would be ignored at the holidays, CNN reports that he is the politician most deserving of... coal in the stocking. It's not golden, but, hey, it's something.

From CNN.com:

Asked which political figure deserved a lump of coal this Christmas, the scandal-scarred Blagojevich was picked by more Americans than the other two candidates combined.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Number 2 in the nation? Or Number 3?

What a year it's been! The long presidential election, the financial upheavals, the continuing crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan - so much to remember. The Washington Post took a look back at the biggest scandals of the year and concluded that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged effort to sell the Senate seat ranked as the second biggest scandal of the year. #1 went to Bernard Madoff, whose Ponzi scheme defrauded investors of as much as $50 billion. #3 on the Washington Post list: Elliot Spitzer. Also-rans include former US Senator Ted Stephens of Alaska, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and AIG, which spent $400,000 on an executive retreat the weekend after getting a $124 billion bailout from the US Government. That's tough competition, but our governor beat them all, nearly.

The Pew Center for the Public and the Press recently updated their list of the most-followed political scandals in America. Their ranking asks Americans if they are aware of stories in the news, and how closely they are following the story. The Blagojevich corruption story ranked third, behind #1 congressional check bouncing (April, 1992) and #2, the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky story (March, 1998). Our current governor's arrest ranks ahead of the Gary Hart/Donna Rice story (September, 1987) and the Elliot Spitzer prostitute story (March, 2008). To date, there are no allegations of sex in the Blagojevich story, but even so, it's already #3 of all time.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann also put out a list, looking at the top 25 most corrupt American politicians of all time. Illinois is well-represented on the list, with Gov. George Ryan at #23, US Rep. Dan Rostenkowski at #21, and Gov. Otto Kerner at #13. And while it's early yet and the full details have yet to come out, based on the record so far, Olbermann is confident enough in Illinois to put Rod Blagojevich at #3 on the all time list of corrupt American politicians. Of course, Rod is still in office, so there's time for him to improve his ranking. #2, Charles Forbes, who ran the Veteran's Bureau for President Warren G. Harding and managed to embezzle nearly a quarter of his $1.3 billion budget; and #1, New York City's Boss Tweed, might want to watch their backs.

All kidding aside, let's hope that 2009 brings a new culture to Illinois politics.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 9 in Retrospect

It was one week ago today that federal agents appeared on the governor's doorstep to take him into custody. That event, so shocking and yet in many ways so anticipated, has plunged Illinois simultaneously into new levels of paralysis and fervent action. In the blinding glare of national attention, our path to the future is temporarily harder to see.

But before we move too far ahead, we should also note two other reasons for commemorating December 9. It was five years earlier, on December 9, 2003, that the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act was signed into law. The 2003 Ethics Act, as it is commonly known, was enacted, like the 2008 Pay-to-Play law, by the legislature over the governor's veto. The signing ceremony on December 9, 2003 was for an enhancement crafted after a storm of public opinion overcame Senate reluctance, resulting in a law that formed the apparatus of ethics enforcement: the Executive and Legislative Ethics Commissions, the Inspectors General, routine ethics training, and a host of other internal changes designed to ferret out corruption before it reached the scale and scope that typified George Ryan's tenure in public office. Rod Blagojevich signed the new law, the strongest in a generation, on December 9, 2003, five years to the day before he himself was arrested.

The other reason to note December 9 is that on that day, also in 2003, ICPR's co-founder Paul Simon passed away. Though Paul Simon is no longer here with us, his legacy of inspiration continues to guide many who believe that government can be ethical, responsible, and above board.

Now we have a third, far tawdrier, reason to recall December 9. We hope that the date will be remembered mostly not as another step in the final demise of one governor, but in Illinois' forward progress toward a more responsible government. If we in Illinois learn anything from history, it should be that removing one actor from the system will do little to change that system. The events of December 9, 2008, confirmed for many that Rod Blagojevich must go before Illinois' government can right itself. But removing the governor is only one step among many. Until we deal with the culture that embraces unlimited campaign contributions, that allows lobbyists to hide their relationships with clients and officials, that tolerates scorn for FOIA and economic interest disclosure, we as a state will be counting the days until the next Rod Blagojevich comes along.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Had enough?

The arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the numerous acts of corruption and abuse of power spelled out in the federal prosecutor’s 76-page complaint should be enough to light a fire under the Illinois General Assembly.

Yes, Gov. Blagojevich should resign. But because that would be the honorable thing for him to do, a resignation is not expected.

If he does not resign, the General Assembly should pass a law stripping him of the power to appoint Barack Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate.

But that is not enough. The Illinois House should immediately move forward with impeachment proceedings. Illinois cannot function in these troubled times under the leadership of a man who has lost the trust and confidence of the public.

For several decades, the men and women elected to the General Assembly and other statewide offices have not done enough to end the culture of corruption in state government and too many local governments.

At a minimum, state legislators – Democrats and Republicans – have been enablers of government corruption. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich came to power in a system energized by money from people buying access, contracts, tax breaks and other benefits.

None of them have done enough to change the system. Passing legislation to take away Gov. Blagojevich’s power to name the state’s next U.S. Senator and removing him from office are not enough.

The General Assembly must pass laws directly addressing the culture of politics that allows people like Rod Blagojevich to become political leaders. It is time for the General Assembly to pass tough new laws limiting the size of campaign contributions, banning contributions by corporations and unions, prohibiting large transfers of campaign cash by legislative leaders to candidates, creating a system of voluntary campaign financing of judges, taking politics out of legislative redistricting, strengthening the State Board of Elections, toughening lobbyist regulation and making it easier for the public to access public records through the Freedom of Information Act.

The General Assembly also should make certain the recent pay-to-play legislation, which will take effect Jan. 1, is enforced and that the State Board of Elections has the funding and determination to carry out its responsibilities under the new law.

Voters, too, share some responsibility.

Enough is enough. It is time for action.