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How Michael Madigan Stymied Post-Blago Reform

In the wake of the George Ryan scandals, Rod Blagojevich campaigned - improbably - as a reformer who would finally bring change to the state's infamous political culture. Instead, he set out to exploit it from day one, hardly deterred an inch from the fate that befell his predecessor.

Following Blagojevich's impeachment and removal from office, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn improbably became governor. This time, it seemed, a real reformer had accidentally risen to the state's top office and reform might actually be at hand.

It wasn't.

In his 2010 book Challenging The Culture Of Corruption, former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins described his efforts as the chair of the Quinn-created Illinois Reform Commission to shed some light on why not - and to continue advocating for measures he thinks most important for the state to take.

With Blagojevich entering prison last week, now is a good time to at least briefly reflect on the largely failed efforts of the reform commission and consider where we are now.


"Within days of the [Illinois Reform Commission's] formation, we received a not-so-subtle message about the type of reception that awaited us in Springfield," Collins wrote. "Unbeknownst to me, one of our commission members received an unexpected call from a top aide to Speaker Michael Madigan. He asked the member to meet for coffee to discuss 'ideas for ethics reform,' and the member agreed to meet.

"However, instead of any discussion or exchange of substantive ideas on ethics reform, the aide essentially proposed that the IRC cut a deal with the legislature up front in order to avoid, as the aide put it, a direct 'confrontation' with the legislative leadership."

Collins and the commission refused to cut any such deal but quickly learned that the biggest obstacle to reform on the state level was the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party - and all those who enable. him.


"[D]uring our IRC hearings on government transparency, Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes testified about his frustration with the legislative process. In his brief tutorial on How Laws Are Made 101, Hynes talked about the powerful function of the House Rules Committee, which serves as the gate-keeping mechanism for a bill on its way to a vote on the floor.

"He said, 'The Rules Committee is where good bills go to die.'

"That is precisely what happened to House Bill 24, a solid piece of campaign finance legislation that imposed meaningful contribution limits on all players. The key provisions of HB 24 were supported by reform groups and were, in fact, quite similar in many respects to the campaign finance bill advanced by the IRC.

"By the end of the legislative session, HB 24 had garnered a substantial bipartisan support to the point where over 50% of the entire House supported the measure.

"In a fairly dramatic development by Springfield standards, Democratic Representative Julie Hamos, in an end-of-session speech in support of HB 24, implored her Democratic colleagues not to 'follow along like lemmings' of her party leadership's opposition to the bill.

"Her bold action did not carry the day.

"Even though HB 24 had enough support to pass the full House if called to a vote on the floor, the bill never got out of the Rules Committee and therefore could not be voted on by the full House or Senate. That's just wrong."

The bill never got out of the rules committee because the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party wouldn't let it.


"In my investigations, campaign contributions were, almost always, the grease that kept the corruption machine churning. How so?

"Over the years of my investigating public corruption, virtually every major investigation had a campaign finance problem. In Operation Safe Road, it started with the selling of licenses for bribes that were then funneled to George Ryan's campaign fund and graduated to the steering of leases, contracts, and even low-digit vanity license plates to large campaign contributors.

"In a number of other investigations, including the City of Chicago's Hired Truck investigation and the Sheriff's Office case, department officials traded jobs and contracts for campaign contributions to favored politicians.

"Most recently, the allegations that former Governor Blagojevich considered trading the Obama Senate seat for campaign contributions or other benefits took pay-to-play politics in Illinois to a new low."

The CHANGE Illinois! coalition did win the state's first limits on campaign contributions despite the opposition of the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, though the legislation that made it through the General Assembly did so without those limits being extended to legislative leaders and political parties in general elections.

Guess who is both a legislative and party leader known for showering money upon favored members and candidates?

(Earlier this week, a federal judge tossed out the limits on PACs - in a case brought by a pro-choice group.

(CLARIFICATION FROM AN EXPERT: "Judge Aspen's ruling applies only to groups that are dedicated to independent expenditures - PACs that say up front that they will not give directly to candidates, or actively coordinate expenditures with
candidates. Limits are still in effect on most PACs.")


In his book, Collins cites four "game-changing" reforms:

Passing True Campaign Finance Reform to eliminate the "pay-to-play" nature of politics by losing loopholes that give preferential treatment to legislative leaders and party bosses, by experimenting with public financing of judicial campaigns, and by pursuing ways to make media advertising less costly to candidates.

Creating a Fair and Competitive Election Process to improve our democracy by dramatically altering the way we draw our legislative districts.

Enhancing Corruption-Fighting Tools to allow state law enforcement officers the same tools that federal agents utilize successfully to expose wrongdoing by public officials.

Improving Voter Access and Participation to encourage enhanced citizen participation in elections and governance.

Perhaps the biggest game-changer of all, though, would be the dethroning of Michael Madigan. Otherwise, it doesn't appear that these or any other measures stand a chance.


See also:
* Michael Madigan Makes A Mockery Of The Judiciary: Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

* Madigan Mum On The Arrest Of His Favorite Candidate: Matter "Under Review"

* Madigan's Shenanigans: Still Stooping To Stealing Lawn Signs

* The Madigan Rules: A Personal Code Of Conduct


Comments welcome.


Posted on March 17, 2012

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