By Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Reporter
CHICAGO--Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias Tuesday proposed ethics reforms so sweeping as to appear dead-on-arrival in Washington, D.C.
He wants a total ban on corporations and lobbyists donating to candidates and a lifetime ban on senators or congressmen every becoming lobbyists.
More modest laws passed by Congress have already been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that corporations have a First Amendment Right to free speech that includes donating to candidates.
"I'm not going to pretend that as a freshman United States senator, in one day we're going to change the world and move toward public financing," Giannoulias said.
"I'm saying candidates should take that pledge," Giannoulias said of his own decision not to take money from corporate Political Action Committees or federal lobbyists.
Giannoulias would not be trailing Republican Mark Kirk $2.3 million to $900,000 in fundraising if he were willing to take that money, he said.
"There are a lot of resources available that we have said 'no' to," Giannoulias said. But he wants to change the culture of lobbyist control, he said.
"In Washington, D.C., everywhere you go you see a lobbyist," Giannoulias said. "They run that town. Nine out of 10 people [you see as] you walk down the hall are all lobbyists."
Giannoulias does take contributions from state lobbyists in Springfield. He denied partisan motives in supporting bans on donations from corporations which often give more to Republicans, but not on unions, who more often support Democrats.
"My goal is saying 'No' to organizations that are out there that actually making a profit.," Giannoulias said. "Labor organizations that represent working class men and women, janitors, nurses, road-builders, these are not organizations that are out there to make money."
In his news conference Tuesday outlining his proposals, Giannoulias reminded voters of clear differences between him and Kirk. Kirk would have voted against extending unemployment benefits, as the senate is expected to do today. Giannoulias would have voted for it.
Kirk would have voted against the Wall Street reform bill President Obama is expected to sign Wednesday. Giannoulias would have voted for it.
Giannoulias said he was encouraged that President Obama - Giannoulias' long-time hoops-shooting buddy - will come to town to raise money for Giannoulias next month.
"I'm excited to have the president coming back to town, it's a good chance to reengergize and remind Democrats in Illinois why this race is so incredibly important and it will be a great boost for the campaign.
Below, Giannoulia PRESS RELEASE....
GIANNOULIAS INTRODUCES COMPREHENSIVE GOVERNMENT REFORM AND TRANSPARENCY PROPOSAL
Cites business as usual in Washington as impediment to progress
CHICAGO - Plainly stating that the way Washington works is not adequate to meet the challenges facing our country, Illinois Treasurer and Democratic nominee for Senate Alexi Giannoulias today put forth a comprehensive government transparency and ethics reform package designed to eliminate the influence of corporate special interests. Giannoulias pointed to the tortuous path recent reform legislation has traveled, including the Wall Street overhaul, and singled out his Republican opponent, Mark Kirk, as a career Congressman steeped in the ways of Washington - where votes are exchanged for campaign contributions.
"The problem with Washington isn't that there's a lack of ideas on how to create jobs, or how to invest in clean energy, or how to invest in our schools," Giannoulias said. "The problem is that those ideas are killed in committee or on the chamber floor because too many politicians live to serve their campaign contributors rather than their constituents."
In particular, Giannoulias pointed to the process of passing meaningful Wall Street reform, which was uncertain even in the midst of the worst financial crisis in 70 years. Last week, the New York Times reported that at least eight lawmakers are under investigation by a Congressional ethics panel for taking disproportionately high contributions from the financial sector shortly before last December's House vote on reform. Over the same period, Congressman Kirk took in nearly $50,000 from the financial sector, nearly double the amount received by any of the lawmakers included in the Times story, before voting against reform.
"The economic wreckage is staggering: more than 8 million jobs lost; unemployment hovering above 10 percent; and in the year 2008 alone, American households lost $11 trillion, 18 percent of their wealth," Giannoulias said. "Surveying this damage, it seems like it should be a no-brainer to make Wall Street reform a priority - to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. But in Washington, the outcome was in doubt until the very end...Only in Washington would even the idea that reform is necessary be in doubt."
Giannoulias' proposal is broad in scope, targeting both the influence of corporate special interests, and the Washington culture that is so receptive to it. Indeed, in addition to outlawing campaign contributions from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists, Giannoulias is proposing that members of Congress be prohibited from becoming lobbyists after leaving the public payroll. He also targets earmark reform, as well as a swift move to undo the damage of the Citizens United decision, which promises to increase the influence of corporate special interests rather than lessen it.
The entire plan is available at www.alexiforillinois.com