Illinois is synonymous with political corruption, but a new study gives hope to the Land of Lincoln. Illinois has the seventh strongest campaign finance laws in the country, according to a report released yesterday by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C. government watchdog.
As with a CPI study Progress Illinois examined in February on overall public corruption by state, the campaign finance report is not concerned with past shenanigans but current law, and Illinois ranks well on both citizen access to financial records, and decently on rules placed on the financing of political parties and individual candidates.
The CPI State Integrity Investigation claims that each high-profile corruption scandal of late – the imprisonments of Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich – “brought some reforms.”
“Taken together,” the report asserts, “these reforms amount to substantive change.”
Reforms include a $5,000 limit on how much an individual can give to a political campaign, a $10,000 maximum donation from a corporation or union, and a $50,000 maximum give from a political action committee. These ceilings are lower in several states – but Illinois had no contribution limits until 2009, when some laws passed in the wake of Blagojevich's impeachment.
Relatively more impressive is that the state provides readable reports to the public on campaign financing, which candidates must file quarterly. Also, candidates must report any contribution of $1,000 or greater to the State Board of Elections within five days.
The state gets slightly lower marks on how these laws have been carried out, but the rules were in place for just one full election cycle – in 2010 – and this year’s presidential primary.
CPI is not naïve about the state’s reputation for corruption – they note Illinois has greater ills than the financing of political campaigns.
For example, lawmakers, such as Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), rarely are pressed to disclose financial conflicts of interest in advocating for or voting on legislation. Also the state gets an “F” on legislative redistricting, a process that some argue amounts to old-fashioned gerrymandering by Madigan and the other General Assembly leaders that control the process.
Illinois is one of several states CPI gives fairly high campaign finance marks to despite a history of corruption. For example, Connecticut is ranked first.
“In the past decade, no branch of government has been spared from abuse, exploitation and disgrace,” the report says of the Nutmeg State. But, as a result, “Connecticut has undergone significant reform in recent years.”
Those looking for a report focused on each state’s track records can start with a February University of Illinois-Chicago study. The UIC political science department found that Illinois ranked third in per capita federal public corruption convictions since 1974. The District of Columbia and Louisiana took first and second, respectively.