CHICAGO - A government reform commission established by Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn yesterday proposed capping all campaign contributions, banning contributions from lobbyists, and extending a ban on contributions from large state contractors to General Assembly members.
The initial recommendations unveiled yesterday by the Illinois Reform Commission address campaign finance, procurement, enforcement, and transparency. The proposals come as former Gov. Rod Blagojevich faces indictment by a federal grand jury as soon as tomorrow on charges of public corruption stemming from allegations of pay-to-play to build his campaign coffers.
The recommendations include measures that would tighten disclosure and procurement rules, extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover the General Assembly, and provide law enforcement with additional tools to investigate corruption by making it easier to win approval for wiretaps.
"Today, the commission is presenting a series of substantive proposals to change the pay-to-play system that has dominated Illinois politics for too long," commission chairman Patrick Collins said at a news conference. "Through our hearings, town hall meetings, and Web site, we have heard the voice of a public that is demanding change, demanding accountability, demanding reform. We urge the governor and the legislature to listen to that collective voice."
Quinn created the commission when he was still lieutenant governor, shortly before he became governor earlier this year when the General Assembly removed Blagojevich from office through impeachment.
Blagojevich's removal followed his December arrest on pay-to-play charges. He was charged with trying to personally benefit from his ability to name President Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.
The former governor has faced allegations in court documents that he rewarded a donor with the top position at the Illinois Finance Authority and traded other jobs, appointments, and state contracts for campaign cash.
In announcing the 15-member commission, Quinn charged members with fumigating state government. Collins, now a partner at Perkins Coie, is a former prosecutor who led the team that won a conviction of former Gov. George Ryan in 2006 on charges of corruption stemming from his tenure as secretary of state. The commission intends to continue its hearings through the end of April and will announce additional recommendation soon after.
The campaign finance proposals include the imposition of a first-time cap on donations to all candidates of $2,400 from an individual and $5,000 from a political committee. The recommendations include new disclosure rules covering individuals who raise contributions from others. The commission also recommended establishing a pilot project for public financing for judicial elections in 2010 and suggested moving primary election dates closer to general election dates to trim the costs of campaigns.
Collins acknowledged that some of the suggestions might face a tough road at the state capital, but the commission and campaign finance reform advocates believe the time is ripe to push reforms.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has said in interviews that he believes a cap on contributions will win approval. Illinois is one of just a handful of states that has no limits, although lawmakers last year approved banning contributions from vendors that have state contracts worth $50,000 or more.
On a separate track, Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, this week proposed legislation that would reconstitute the state's pension fund boards, giving the governor 30 days to appoint new members who would face stricter rules on travel, gifts and other conflict-of-interest provisions.
The pension funds have come under scrutiny in the federal government's Operation Board Games probe of Blagojevich's administration and state government because investment firms were shaken down for campaign contributions.