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Fumigation and reform

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

* More fumigation

Four of the state’s largest public-employee pension systems would face a major shakeup at the top under a plan by key statehouse Democrats to purge holdovers from ex-Gov. Blagojevich’s scandal-tainted tenure, several sources briefed on the ethics proposal said Monday.

The plan, which will be unveiled today, would end the terms of the current gubernatorial appointees on the boards of the Teachers Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, the State Employees Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment.

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column takes up the ethics issue and how it may play out in Springfield…

Both Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan have said they’d like to see Illinois politics and government cleaned up before any deficit-closing tax increases are debated.

It’s doubtful, of course, that the two men are talking about the same sort of cleanup - with Madigan coming from the old school and Quinn being the decades-long reformer.

Madigan mentioned two targets for reform the other day when talking to public television: The pension systems and the state’s purchasing act. He didn’t elaborate much. A spokesman said ideas are being developed, but Madigan does want some of the state’s purchasing reforms from a few years ago applied to the state pension systems.

Quinn, meanwhile, has pushed binding public referenda, campaign contribution limits and a whole host of other ideas that are never very popular in Springfield. Good government groups and some newspapers have made contribution caps their top priority, partly because disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign funding apparatus was so obscene.

So, where does it go from here?

Senate President John Cullerton may have pointed the way last week when he told a downstate newspaper’s editorial board that he believes campaign contribution limits will become the law in this state. Illinois is one of just a handful of states that places no limits on contributions. Cullerton didn’t elaborate about how high he’d place the cap, but Madigan has said he worries that wealthy candidates or interest groups could overwhelm opponents with a huge barrage of uncapped spending.

If caps are put in place, they will likely wind up being higher than the federal government’s $2,400 per election for individuals and $5,000 per year for political action committees. A starting point may be Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno’s proposal to limit contributions to $10,000 per year from all sources.

Despite what you may think, gigantic contributions of $100,000 or more are the exception, not the rule in Illinois. But $25,000 checks are more common. The despicable Blagojevich apparently set $25,000 as his ticket price for appointments to some state boards and commissions.

Cullerton and Madigan co-chair a special bicameral committee created to come up with ethics reforms. But that legislative committee has a competitor out there, a special citizens commission formed by Gov. Quinn and run by respected former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins.

As I write this, Collins is preparing to unveil his commission’s proposals. It’s widely expected the Collins commission will propose far more radical ideas than the Madigan/Cullerton committee, and members will be way more wedded to their recommendations. One member of the Collins-headed commission told a Rockford audience at a recent town hall meeting that he would feel “very disenfranchised” if the commission’s recommendations were swept under the rug.

Quinn is proud of his reformer reputation, so implementing real change is one of his top priorities. But he also wants to pass a multibillion-dollar, job-creating capital construction plan, and he absolutely must have a balanced budget by the end of this spring’s legislative session. He needs cooperation from the General Assembly and their leaders to succeed, so he has to be somewhat careful how he proceeds on his reform agenda.

Collins and his commission have been operating independently from Quinn. The governor’s office has been given no real idea how far and wide the commission will go. And if they go too far and push too forcefully, Quinn will be put smack dab in the middle of any potential clash between the commission and the Madigan/Cullerton committee. The governor’s own commission could put him in a major political bind.

A saving grace might be the fact that Collins didn’t put any members of the state’s “good government” groups on his commission. While they’re often ignored at the Statehouse, if the groups decide to act as a sort of referee between the “too tame” and the “not gonna happen,” they could help shape the final product’s outcome.

And Quinn may have given himself a somewhat graceful way out if he has to pull the plug on the reform push. The governor said last week that he would initiate a statewide petition drive to make contribution caps the law of the land if the legislature fails to act. He probably can’t do that under the state’s constitution, but it’ll be a fun summer project for the guy.

* Related…

* Reform group includes Harper in complaints on Illinois lobbying: A new report by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform set to be released today shows Harper officials increased their spending on clout-heavy lobbyists last year by 50 percent, from $84,000 in 2007 to $126,000 in 2008. The report analyzes lobbying efforts from dozens of governmental agencies to highlight how much taxpayer money is being spent to lobby other taxpayer-funded entities, and cites Harper’s lobbying expense as a troubling example of the practical costs of passing legislation in Illinois.

* Panel discusses ways to change legislative redistricting in Illinois

* IL Senate President Says Some Privacy Needed in Government: “You always have to have certain privacy with regard to legislative strategy but debating public policy should always be open to the public.” A spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan says a state committee on political reform could look at the issue as well. But he says that might not be necessary because all final legislative decisions are made out in public.

* Reform Politics in Illinois

- Posted by Rich Miller        


11 Comments
  1. - Ghost - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 10:42 am:

    Quinn needs to move away from his “Ready, Fire, Aim” appraoch if he expects to get things done. Its ok to be thoughtful and have a 5 year plan prepared with care in place of a 5 minute plan prepared with reckless abandon.


  2. - Truthful James - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 11:47 am:

    The huge craving for campaign contributions is a direct function of the length of the campaign season. Shorten the period between primary and general, for instance, and the costs of being elected go down.

    In addition there ought to be two limits.

    First — like the luxury tax in baseball — if a candidate spends more money getting elected than his stipend over the full term, he shall provide to his opponent an amount equal to a fixed percentage of that overage.

    Second, in addition, should the incumbent at retirement have in remaining campaign funds an amount greater than $XXX (to be determined) he will provide the overage to the State political party of his choice.


  3. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 12:33 pm:

    Two comments?

    Sigh.


  4. - Ghost - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 12:36 pm:

    I can repost my comments in pig latin if that will help


  5. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 12:44 pm:

    Probably wouldn’t hurt. Those watching comments on RSS feed might wander over to see what the heck is going on. lol


  6. - Nearly Normal - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 1:42 pm:

    FYI from the TRS website–

    Members
    TRS is governed by an 11-member Board of Trustees. Trustees include the state superintendent of education, four trustees elected by contributing TRS members, four trustees appointed by the governor, and two trustees elected by TRS annuitants. Currently, one appointed trustee position is vacant.

    The president of the Board of Trustees, by law, is the Illinois superintendent of education. The Board of Trustees elects its vice president from among its members. The Board of Trustees appoints an executive director who also serves as the secretary of the Board of Trustees. The executive director is responsible for daily operations at TRS.

    As an annuitant, I can vote for only two of the board positions. When I was still working, I could vote for four positions. Therefore, those whose pensions are in this system can vote for six in all whereas the governor appoints four members as well as the state superintendent.

    I would like to see the details of this proposal. Hopefully, they are meaningful and will cut down on the use of board appointments for personal gain.


  7. - carbon deforestation - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 2:44 pm:

    Harper College should have expected this kind of scrutiny years ago. Not because they hired a lobbyist, but because they hired someone who’s only qualification for helping pass legislation was that he raised gobs of money for RRB. Ronan is a real lobbyist, fine, but Milan Petrovich? Really Harper College? Really?

    Clearly the voters in that district should be asking more questions of their officials.

    Maybe it is all legal, but isn’t it time that we have a higher threshold for what our elected officials do on our behalf. I think so.


  8. - Leave a light on George - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 2:44 pm:

    I certainly hope this doesn’t stop with retirement board appointments. Dig into the agencies, deeper than the Director level and get rid of all Blago appointees.


  9. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 6:31 pm:

    Quinn also needs some real reform cover to deflect the shots he will take for what undoubtedly will be a very unpopular budget.

    He needs to show the electorate that he did something nice for them. Problem is, everyone knows it.


  10. - what's up - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 7:02 pm:

    Hey Rich,
    i am wondering why has madigan’s firing list not ben printed. It aeems from the stanley moore firing that he is targeting the african-americans who held positions under blago but not the hispanics? This will not bode well for his daughters run for governor!


  11. - Quinn T. Sential - Tuesday, Mar 31, 09 @ 10:24 pm:

    Nothing but window dressing will have evolved from all of this. Whenever one door closes; another one opens. So long as the people who’s conduct you are attempting to regulate are in charge of making the regulations, then they will almost always build in the exception or the loophole which substantially mitigates the impact of the intended regulations.

    In the intervening period between the time the new law is enacted, and the first person is discovered to have bypassed its purported intent, all will be able to campaign on being a “leader” on reform issues.


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