Less than one week after the
hopelessly corrupt Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, General
Assembly leaders may already be hedging on campaign finance reform. Joseph Ryan at the Daily Herald notes
that both Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker ...
Less than one week after the hopelessly corrupt Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, General Assembly leaders may already be hedging on campaign finance reform. Joseph Ryan at the Daily Herald notes that both Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan have been non-commital on the issue in recent days. Madigan spokesperson Steve Brown even released this incoherent argument against campaign contribution limits:
Brown said campaign finance limits can be problematic because they open the door to unknown third parties dumping TV ads and mailers into a race without having to disclose the donors. He said it also gives wealthy candidates a leg up.
According to Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, their reticence isn’t surprising. As we mentioned in our feature from last week, politicians in Illinois haven’t exhibited the will to transform ethics guidelines from which they benefit. “I think that the problem they are focused right now on,” she says, “is the fact that it might make their lives more difficult rather than being focused on the fact that … it may make government more accountable, less corrupt, and more responsive.”
Canary says that while it’s almost assured some reforms will be enacted this session, it’s too early to tell what the leaders might support. On WGN radio earlier this month, Madigan said he is “open to tightening any kind, any section of the Illinois law that would bring on more ethical conduct by people involved in Illinois government.” Of course, that could mean any number of things, including an unabmitious plan to update the state’s lax disclosure laws, as Brown hints at. Madigan could also try to railroad legislation by throwing his weight behind an alternative proposal with less rank-and-file support. (Blagojevich took this poison pill route with his amendatory veto of last year’s pay-to-play bill.)
But Canary emphasized that public pressure can force legislative leaders to stick by their promises to clean up state government substantively. “It really takes all hands on deck right now,” she says, “but this is the moment and the opportunity.”
As a first step, ICPR supports Rep. Henry Osterman’s bill, which would create a system of limits modeled after federal requirements. While firm proponents of public financing, Canary notes that the sequencing is key. She argues limits should come first because they form a primary component of any public financing system, are more palatable to lawmakers, and are less expensive. “Our sense is that we really need to have a coherent strategy where we push for both limits and public financing,” she says. “[But first], we need to close the door on this bank vault.”
UPDATE (3:22 PM): Right on cue, Madigan and Cullerton announced this afternoon that they will chair a joint legislative committee on ethics reform. But their resolution (PDF) contains no mention of campaign finance measures.