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Ill. Panel Outlines Reforms

CHICAGO - A commission created by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to overhaul government after his predecessor's arrest on pay-to-play charges called for sweeping reforms yesterday that would cap campaign contributions, impose term limits on legislative leaders, and tighten how state business is doled out and how lawmakers vote on the budget.

"We have done our best to be comprehensive and objective in our review and to propose reforms that we believe will have a meaningful impact on the culture of corruption that has infected our state," said commission chairman Patrick Collins.

"The baton is now passed to the governor, the legislature, and the public to discuss, debate, and ultimately enact meaningful ethics reform by May 31, 2009," when the legislature is scheduled to adjourn, said Collins, an attorney at Perkins Coie and the former federal prosecutor who led the government's successful prosecution of ex-Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges.

The Illinois Reform Commission recommendations followed eight public hearings held over the last three months. Quinn, then the lieutenant governor, appointed the panel in January after then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest in December on corruption charges. Blagojevich was Ryan's successor.

Blagojevich was removed from office through impeachment by the General Assembly earlier this year. Earlier this month, federal prosecutors announced a 19-count indictment against the former governor and five associates, alleging they sought to personally profit from the governor's influence on legislation, jobs, and state contracts.

The allegations include charges that the governor sought to profit from his power to name President Obama's Senate replacement and steered the lucrative lead underwriting role on the state's $10 billion 2003 pension bond sale to Bear, Stearns & Co. in exchange for kickbacks from the firm's consultant.

The scandal contributed to downgrades in the state's credit as Blagojevich and lawmakers failed to take any steps to address the state's growing liquidity problems or a growing budget deficit that now stands at $12 billion.

Quinn praised the 15-member commission's report as a "blueprint" for change, with "great ideas" that he hopes the General Assembly will take up, but he did not directly endorse any of the proposals, saying he needed time to review them.

To curtail pay-to-play, the commission recommended imposing a ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists and trusts. It also recommended that contributions to state office holders be capped at $2,400 from an individual and $5,000 from a political committee. Illinois is one of just a handful of state that doesn't cap the size of contributions.

The commission also proposed "real-time" reporting by state office holders of campaign contributions, which are currently reported twice annually, and mandatory disclosure of "bundlers" that collect contributions from others. The commission wants a ban on contributions to the governor from vendors with at least $25,000 in state contracts to be extended to legislative members and the state to move towards public financing for elections.

The panel proposed imposing term limits for legislative leadership posts and using a nonpartisan process to redraw districts every 10 years over the current practice, which gives the majority party that power. The General Assembly would be required to vote on individual pieces of the annual state budget, and only after public hearings.

No-bid and emergency state contracts would face tighter scrutiny and limitations, procurement code rules would be extended to include quasi-governmental agencies, and the legislative and judicial branches and vendors would be required to disclose all lobbyists, subcontractors, and contact with procurement officials.

Enforcement would also be tightened under the commission's recommendation, with the Illinois attorney general granted the ability to conduct grand jury investigations of public corruption offenses. A public corruption division would be created within the state police.

The fate of the proposals is unclear as a legislative committee is working on its own reforms. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has said in interviews that he believes a cap on contributions will win approval. While Cullerton is new to his post, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has served in that post since 1983 with the exception of two years during which Republicans held the majority.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said yesterday: "The Joint Committee on Government Reform, which already passed a significant overhaul of the pension system, is at work on most of these topics. I expect there will be more agreement than disagreement when we get to the end of the session. The next area the Joint Committee will tackle is procurement reform.'

Some legislative aides also said many of the measures might have to wait until a future session, given the need to resolve a $12 billion deficit and reach a funding agreement on a major new capital bill.

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