May 30, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
On Friday morning, Cindi Canary's voice said it all, sounding notes of defeat, disgust, and fury.
"I feel scammed," said the executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Canary, 50, was on her cell phone in Springfield, home of the Illinois General Assembly and haven for un-reformers, talking about the state Senate's passage of the un-reform campaign contribution bill. "There was an outcry and it was met with scorn and disrespect," she said.
The outcry was what followed then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's FBI arrest, impeachment and indictment.
Members of the Illinois House and Senate told every TV camera in sight in January that they were fed up with corruption and promised a new day.
The new governor, Pat Quinn, appointed a blue-ribbon reform commission to seize the moment and show the world that Illinois politics wasn't just an endless plot line for late-night comics and reality TV.
Apparently it still is.
On Thursday, Quinn threw his Reform Commission, headed by former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, overboard.
What passed the Senate --campaign finance reform -- was watered-down, loophole-ridden legislation. It gives House Speaker Michael Madigan -- the real governor of Illinois -- and Senate President John Cullerton even more power over passing out money to their favored candidates.
As this debate played out, plenty of you have tried your best to weigh in. You've called, written, faxed, and e-mailed (except to Madigan, who doesn't bother with e-mail).
So far, it hasn't made a difference, something Collins understands but doesn't happily accept. "We came from the view that after all the eloquence, all the scandal, that the sky was the limit," he said by phone Friday.
"The state" said Collins, "did not get what it deserved."
No, it didn't.
In just the last eight days, consider the news stories that have come our way while the Legislature has been in session:
• • A fund-raiser for Quinn offered "face-time" with the governor to donors who were encouraged to give a suggested $15,000. Quinn later called it unauthorized and a mistake.
• • Sen. Roland Burris offered yet another crazy, contradictory explanation of how newly released federal wiretaps on which he was recorded discussing campaign contributions weren't really "pay-to-play" conversations with Rod Blagojevich's fund-raiser brother even though they sounded exactly like "pay-to-play."
• • Ald. Isaac Carothers of the 29th Ward was indicted, like his alderman-father before him, for allegedly taking $40,000 worth of kickbacks from a clouted developer who allegedly funneled third- party political donations to Carothers' aunt, a Cook County judge.
All three stories, in one way or another, involve campaign cash.
Illinois is at or near the bottom of the national reform barrel when it comes to regulating political donations. But hey, it's right at the top of the list when it comes to legislative creativity. It pretends to regulate what political action committees or party leaders can give to candidates even though it puts absolutely no limits on "in-kind" contributions such as staff, television ads and direct mail.
While there are federal limits of $4,800 per election cycle, our "un-reform" limits are a laughable $20,000 for a state senator. Quinn is apparently so desperate to declare a reform victory that he's willing to say with a straight face that this is the best we can do.
And a courageous member of the Democratic majority, Rep. Julie Hamos, made that clear in an impassioned speech Friday on the House floor, demanding to know why party loyalty should dictate that rank and file act "like lemmings" for their leadership.
If the House votes to support this un-reform bill on Saturday, she's clear: "It won't fool the public."