Saturday, May 31, 2008

Will ethics bill be “improved to death?"

By Patrick O'Brien
After a three-year battle, the imprisonment of one governor and federal investigations of another, state lawmakers took a step today toward taming
Illinois' “wild west” reputation for political corruption.

But despite the General Assembly’s unanimous votes on the “pay-to-play” reforms, Gov. Rod Blagojevich may make changes to the proposal and send it into limbo again. “There’s a lot more that needs to be done,” said Rebecca Rausch, a spokesperson for the governor, shortly after the House vote.

One day after a tornado in the state capital, the measure’s sponsor saw reasons to be optimistic about the measure becoming law.

“The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and we finally passed a new ethics bill in Springfield,” said Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat.

The plan would ban contractors with more than $50,000 in state business from donating money to statewide officeholders’ political campaigns.

The measure would not ban contributions to state political parties, a point of contention for Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Blagojevich ally who said during committee that the bill could be “improved.”

“This addresses a very specific problem, the pay-to-play problem with contractors in state government,” said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. She added: “If you look at the Ryan Administration, and if you look at, particularly, Ryan when he was secretary of state, we saw a lot of this. This is not a new problem. Sadly this has been taken to somewhat of an art form in recent years, but this is something that has gone on for some time.”

Fritchey said the bulk of the reforms have already been enacted by all statewide executives on their own, with “one glaring exception,” the governor.

Rep. Jack Franks, a McHenry Democrat and frequent Blagojevich critic, said the governor hasn’t taken the active role in ethics reform that he promised in a 2003 speech. “I’m still waiting for that bill from the governor that would ‘rock the system’ and reform what we’re doing in Springfield.”

Fritchey said the measure’s Senate sponsor, Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, and Sen. Debbie Halvorson, a Crete Democrat, will call for a veto override in that chamber if the governor tries to change the bill. Fritchey expressed concern that the governor would try to “improve the bill to death” to defeat it.

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