Friday, January 30, 2009

Time to Get to Work

Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office. Now, the real work can begin.

The waning days of the Blagojevich Administration became a circus, with a one-man carnival-barker/freak show in the center ring. But until the political system that allowed someone like that to assume the duties of governor is changed, the Era of Corruption will continue.

Rod Blagojevich was hardly an outlier in the state's list of governors. Three of his seven predecessors went to jail, and if he is convicted of the federal corruption charges now lodged against him, then Jon Stewart's observation -- that you are more likely to go to jail if you become governor of Illinois than if you commit murder -- will be proven true.

We welcome Governor Pat Quinn. Perhaps it is no coincidence that he has both a reputation for standing up to established power and a dismal record as a campaign fundraiser. But we also recognize that installing Pat Quinn will not end corruption in Illinois government. We have turned governors out of office before, only to wind up, again and again, right back at square one. Problems with any one officeholder are just symptoms of a much larger problem with our culture of politics.

Illinois' political culture is too loose to resist the next thuggish strongman who will exploit its weaknesses. Illinois provides its citizens with far too little information about the personal financial interests of public officials, about the activities of lobbyists, about the day-to-day operation of government. Our campaign laws make it far too easy for the entrenched to monopolize power, to limit ballot access, and to leverage incumbency into campaign resources.

This is not news. The problems we face are well known and well documented, as are the solutions. What is needed now is not recognition but resolution, not further deliberation but deliberate action. The new Governor and the General Assembly should enact limits on campaign contributions and bring Illinois in line with nearly all other states and the federal system. We've seen what happens when special interests can give unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns; let's see how elections in Illinois work when held to the same standards that prevail in most other states. Gov. Quinn and the members of the House and Senate should come to terms on a system of public financing, to let candidates run for office without having to kowtow to the small group of people who now control the purse strings.

It's past time to improve the culture of politics in Illinois. We know what we need to do. Now we must do it.

For more information, go to ilcampaign.org.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Twenty Ways to Stop Corruption

Join us for Twenty Ways to Stop Corruption in Illinois
Tuesday, February 3, 2009, 6-9 p.m. at the Chicago Temple First United
Methodist Church

ICPR is co-sponsoring this panel discussion with the Better Government
Association, Business Professionals for the Public Interest,
Crossroads Fund, League of Women Voters, MALDEF, Wieboldt Foundation,
and Woods Fund of Chicago


Event Information

Twenty Ways to Stop Corruption in Illinois: A Panel Discussion

Tuesday, February 3, 2009, 6-9 p.m.

Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church Sanctuary, 77 W. Washington Street

The recent arrest and pending indictment of Governor Rod Blagojevich
have cast national and international attention on our state, leading
to the charge that Illinois is the most corrupt state in America.
While Blagojevich's actions may seem extreme to a wider audience, for
those of us who live in Chicago his shenanigans read more like
business as usual.

It's up to the citizens of Illinois to end the culture of corruption.

The featured panelists will share concrete ideas to eliminate
political corruption in Chicago and Illinois and offer tangible
actions for citizens and activists to take in order to gain control of
our government.

Panelists:
Cindi Canary, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
Patrick Collins, Attorney and Chair of an Ethics Commission charged
with making recommendations to reform state government
Miguel Del Valle, Chicago City Clerk
Dick Simpson, Professor of Political Science at UIC and former Chicago Alderman
Art Turner, State Representative (invited)

To register, contact Lisa Avila at 773.227.7676 or
lisa at crossroadsfund dot org by Friday, January 30th

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Illinois Residents See Broad Corruption in State Government and Seek Action for Change

A majority of Illinoisans (58%) believe Governor Rod Blagojevich’s alleged corrupt behavior is common among public officials in Illinois, and an even larger percentage believes a series of reforms, including limits on campaign contributions, would make a difference and lead to better government. The findings are contained in a new statewide poll released Thursday by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) and are available at www.ilcampaign.org. The poll itself is here (PDF) and the analysis is here (PDF).

About three-quarters of Illinois residents say an overhaul of Illinois’ weak system of campaign regulation would help make state government work better. According to the survey, 78% of residents say a ban on campaign contributions by corporations will make a difference, and 76% say a similar ban on labor union contributions would make a difference.

Similar sentiment (74%) was expressed for setting limits on the amount of contributions that could be given by individuals.

“The Blagojevich scandal and the other cases of corruption in state and local governments have taken their toll on voter confidence in public officials,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of ICPR. “Changing governors will not be enough to fix the system and restore the public’s faith in government.

“Illinois should join the federal government and 46 other states that limit the size of contributions, and our campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws should be strictly enforced,” she said. “The public does not have much faith in state government, but voters do believe reform efforts are worthwhile. Legislators should give the public the change it deserves.”

Opinions of the state legislature have sharply worsened in recent months (49% of residents now believe the legislature is doing a “poor” job compared to 26% who said so in April-May 2008). Concerns about corruption and the influence of money in politics are deeper than the current scandal and are likely to continue even if the governor is removed.

“These survey results transcend political parties and all regions of the state,” stated Sheila Simon, a professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law and a member of the ICPR Board. “Illinois residents are united in their views that our political system must be reformed.”

Even during tough economic times, Illinoisans are sending some strongly negative messages to officeholders across the state. Two-thirds support the creation of a new state agency to vigorously enforce Illinois’ campaign finance laws (66% support) and spending more tax dollars on stronger enforcement of laws to keep money out of politics (65%).

Underscoring the strong views of residents is another key finding: six in ten (61%) Illinois residents are “extremely” concerned about corruption in state government and more than half (54%) about the influence of money in state politics. Concerns of corruption exceed concerns over the economy (50%), jobs (45%), and the state budget (46%).

Other findings of the poll included:

• 71% of Illinois residents support a law limiting the amount of campaign money party leaders of the legislature are allowed to contribute to other legislative candidates;
• 89% of registered voters say their legislator’s support for legislation to reduce money in politics would be important to their decision to re-elect their legislator with half (50%) saying it would be “very important;”
• Eight in ten Illinois residents (78%) say the state is on the wrong track, an increase from the 68% who thought so in April-May 2008.

The poll was conducted by Belden, Russonello & Stewart (BRS), an independent
research firm located in Washington, DC. A random telephone survey of 802 adults in Illinois on attitudes toward government and political reform was conducted January 8 – 11, 2009. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points at the 95% level of tolerance. Some questions in the survey track attitudes from BRS surveys on political reform conducted in 2006 and 2008. The survey was commissioned and funded by The Joyce Foundation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rod Blagojevich: Alone with his Money?

Today's New York Times includes a profile of Gov. Blagojevich that describes him as "isolated" and "alone." Blago has always raised more money than anyone else and, with his list of campaign contributors, you'd think he'd never be lonely.

But a look at donations to his fund in the last half of 2008, released this week by the House Special Investigative Committee on impeachment, shows that many of his donors are walking away from him. These records are likely incomplete, but they suggest that people who gave to the governor in the past are toning down their support, significantly reducing their donations to his campaign fund.

Consider the utilities. Exelon kicked in $15K during the fall of of '07, but just $3.5K in the fall of '08. Ameren gave $12.5K in the fall of 2007, while fall of 2008 saw just $2K. People's Gas gave $10K in fall '08; half of what they gave a year earlier.

Other previous big donors to the governor appear to be similarly scaling back. Long-time Democratic donors Development Specialists gave $5K in fall 2008; down from $25K in fall 2007. Government Navigation Group, a lobbying firm, gave $500 in fall '08; Paul Rosenfeld, a principal at the firm, gave $5K in fall '07. Mr. & Mrs. James McDonough gave $1K in fall of '08; McDonough's company, state contractor McDonough & Assoc., gave $20K in the fall of '07. Sen. James Deleo's campaign fund gave $5K in fall '08; down from $20K in fall '07.

Even the laborers unions seem to have cut back. In the fall of 2007, three different regional laborers unions combined for $105K to Blago's fund. In the fall of 2008, just one regional, the Southern Central League, gave at all, and its giving totaled only $35K.

It seems that many gave to the governor because they thought he could deliver something. Impeached and facing federal corruption charges, his ability deliver has declined, and his receipts reflect that.

To join the comments on the contents of the list of donors, please visit yesterday's post, here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Who would give Rod Blagojevich $617,643?

The answer is, 241 donations did. And, apparently, no one gave after November 25.

One of the subpoenas issued by the House Special Investigative Committee on impeachment was to the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund seeking the names, dates, and amounts of donations to the fund between July 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008. Astute readers will recognize those dates as the start and end of the Semi-Annual Disclosure Period for the second half of 2008. State law requires that those donations be reported by January 20 (next Tuesday) but the subpoena trumped state law.

Friends of Blagojevich, through their lawyers at Hinshaw and Culberston, responded to the subpoena, and the Special Investigative Committee has posted the reply to their website. The response is just what was asked for -- names, amounts, and dates, without addresses, occupation, or employer. It also seems likely that it does not include in-kind donations.

But it does include some big donations, including a bunch from state contractors (natch), $34,000 from the laborers, and $50,000 from "Dream World Inc." All told, it adds up to $617K. The report is available here (PDF).

Give it a good read and post if you see anything interesting!