Chicago Sun-Times

Three days left...and still no real reform

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May 27, 2009

BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

Gov. Quinn is too low-key for me. I think he's an able and decent man. But for all those decades he has been on the political fringe, a gadfly on the outside looking in, perhaps he has spent too much time being reactive rather than pro-active.

Quinn now navigates a make-or-break week in Springfield, facing down plagues of near-biblical proportions: the budget emergency, the pension crisis and the screaming need for comprehensive ethics reform.

Readers know I've spent a lot of time on reform because, frankly, it's most at risk of being dumped overboard in a state insufficiently shamed by its corruption.

So on Tuesday, what happens? As I'm writing the first lines of this column, news bulletins start shooting into my in-box.

First, that a federal judge in Chicago has ruled that the Senate Ethics Committee can have secretly recorded FBI tapes of wiretapped conversations between future Sen. Roland Burris and Robert Blagojevich, the indicted brother of our indicted former governor, Rod Blagojevich. Then, a second headline, an exclusive report from the Sun-Times' Natasha Korecki that Burris had promised Robert he'd write Rod a check for $1,500, a promise made just a month before Rod's arrest and Burris' appointment.

Burris assures us there is no connection whatever, though in repeated interviews and testimony he never mentioned that $1,500 detail. His lawyer said the check was never written, proof of no pay-to-play.

Money. It's always about the money.

Sadly, last week, Quinn's campaign fund-raising team badly bungled their own ball on that. As Rich Miller of the CapitolFaxBlog reported, they were hitting up potential donors while the Legislature was in session and setting a $15,000 suggested amount for "face-time" with the governor. Quinn called it a mistake by a staffer, but please, who with a brain would put that game into motion?

Since then, the governor has spent more time talking about recall as a reform proposal -- something his own commission didn't endorse -- than he has spent talking about campaign contribution limits in Illinois.

Quinn's Reform Commission, headed by former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, has no built-in constituency except you and me. The governor couldn't produce reliable sponsors for the measures that Collins' team put into bill form; the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, Speaker Mike Madigan and President John Cullerton, certainly didn't put any muscle behind the measures, and they're now running out the clock.

A Republican leader, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, has jumped in to fill the void. After witnessing the massacre of Collins' nine proposals to strengthen the hand of law enforcement in investigating political corruption, Radogno rode in to be the sponsor of the campaign cash proposals.

It's important to listen to what she says because whatever limit might be imposed on campaign contributions -- $2400, $5000, $10,000 -- won't matter if the leaders of the House and Senate are exempt. "The gaping hole is the leadership cap," Radogno said Tuesday from Springfield. "Leaders can send hundreds of thousands of dollars."

In that sense, any caps that don't include Madigan and Cullerton end up giving them even more power to be kingmakers of the Democratic majority. Same for Republicans and their troops, though that's hardly an issue now in their beleaguered condition.

Redistricting is the other premier issue of reform. Plenty of states, including Iowa, have established models for taking some of the politics out of the design of legislative districts.

That's dead, too.

Oh, you'll hear Madigan and Cullerton talk about all the "significant and far-reaching reforms" they have achieved this session. But in truth, their measures so far just nibble around the edges of reform.

There are three days left.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on May 27, 2009 7:37 AM.

"I'm A Reformer...Get Me Out of Here!" was the previous entry in this blog.

Gov's Wrong. We Can Do Better is the next entry in this blog.

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