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November 2009
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Illinois Has Campaign Finance Reform

General Asembly“It is what it is” comes to mind after the recent passage of the election finance bill through the Illinois Senate. It actually is not a bad bill– and although I never wanted to say these words, at least it’s a start.

A good start at that. As discussed in my last post, the bill caps financial contributions from individuals at $5,000.00, corporations at $10,000.00, and political action committees at $50,000.00. The major sticking point was allowing caucus leaders– currently, Mike Madigan, Speaker of the House; House minority leader, Tom Cross; John Cullerton, Senate Majority Leader; and Senate Minority leader Christine Rodogno– the ability to provide limitless contributions from their special leadership campaign warchests to the accounts of legislators. Now, there is a limit for such contributions in primary races: $200,000.00 for statewide races, $125,000.00 for Senate races, and $75,000.00 for state representative races. These totals include cash donations and in-kind donations like the value of printing, postage, and staff time. Limits are not placed on the four leaders during general elections.

The limit on primary elections is a start. Now, Speaker Madigan is limited on what he can provide to favored legislators during primary races. Under the past proposal, Michael Madigan had the power to withhold monies from a democratic candidate for a House seat because that representative might have failed to back Speaker Madigan on particular issues. To get at campaign money the leader controls, the representative would be beholden to the Speaker’s interests rather than those of his constituents. Although the limits do not prevent that flood of monies in a general election, presumptively, the legislative leaders would provide monies to candidates within their own party for close races. The apparent “Vote for Pay” taken out of the law as written. Now, an more independent legislator would still have to weather a storm– in terms of perhaps not getting campaign cash from Mike Madigan (or the three other leaders)– but if he or she makes it to the general election, that independent legislator would presumptively have his/her leader’s backing.

The new law (once signed by Governor Quinn) also requires comprehensive reports of all donations every three months instead of every six months and requires candidates and interests groups to report individual donations of more than $1,000.00 within five business days of receipt.

After its passage, Republican Christine Rodogno of Lemont challenged the law saying lawmakers squandered an excellent opportunity to put in place real, meaningful reform measures. She noted the appearance of impropriety of democratic leaders and reform advocates working behind closed doors to come to this agreement on reform. Remember, it was the reform advocates who back in the spring forced Governor Pat Quinn to veto the prior bill which he called “landmark” legislation.

Senator Rodogno is correct, the campaign finance reform bill does not do everything it can to close loopholes and create an atmosphere where party rank-and-file can go against the wishes of party leaders. But it does start– a compromise was necessary here, and what was agreed upon was exactly that, a compromise and a good one at that.

Ironically, the first time we will hear from Governor Quinn on this ethics reform bill will be when he signs it. I like Governor Quinn; he seems to be a genuinely nice, down to earth, good guy. However, in the last seven or so months, one thing we have learned is that Pat Quinn is not qualified to be our governor. He is not strong enough to stand up to leaders on either side, tell them what he wants in legislation, and push it forward toward getting in done. Although citizen Blagojevich made a laughingstock of our state and its politics, allegedly attempted to sell President Obama’s senate seat, among other things, one thing we do know is that he certainly didn’t take orders from Mike Madigan. Not only does Governor Quinn take orders from Madigan, Quinn says “yes sir” after he gets them.

There is another, less obvious, piece of the reform bill missing as it heads its way to Quinn for signature: Quinn’s proposal to ban state parties from making endorsements in primaries. Last summer, the governor insisted that this was necessary to keep the party bosses from slating candidates. Since then, however, Lisa Madigan was decided not to run against Quinn for governor. Could that be a reason why this proposal is less crucial? What is it really about Governor Quinn– reforming Illinois politics or your reelection?

If you need even more evidence of his shifting opinions, see his conflicting statements on transit– one day free rides for seniors should be income based, the next day the status quo is fine. More reasons why Pat Quinn is in over his head and should not be our governor.

It was Quinn who initially demanded campaign finance reform. Why was he silent when it was finally crafted and delivered? Does that silence tell us something about his effectiveness or lack thereof? So if there is one thing that we’ve learned through the process of obtaining finance reform in Illinois– we now know who should not be our governor. We’ve learned that, along with gotten a beginning at campaign finance reform– or a decent compromise.

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