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Only in Illinois?

Tuesday, Jan 6, 2009 - Posted by Rich Miller

* A commenter posted a memo about this ethics training session on the blog yesterday. I meant to frontpage it, but forgot. The Tribune had a piece about the subject today…

As legislators weigh impeaching Gov. Rod Blagojevich and federal prosecutors prepare to indict him on corruption charges, his acting chief of staff and a deputy governor will be keynote speakers Wednesday at an “Ethics in the Workplace” seminar for some 200 state employees.

The governor’s acting chief of staff, Clayton Harris III, is new to his post; his predecessor, John Harris, was arrested the same day as the governor and resigned Dec. 12. Deputy Gov. Dean Martinez started his job a month ago.

But is it wrong for any members of the Blagojevich administration to instruct state workers on ethics?

“That’s a real tough question, but … I don’t see the irony really,” said Rev. Tim Fiala, executive director of University of Illinois at Chicago’s Integritas Institute, an ethics forum.

Ha! The irony is that the director of the Integritas Institute didn’t catch the irony in the memo. Hilarious. Only in Illinois, baby. Only in Illinois.

Here’s the memo

Don’t miss the fantastic speakers and great round table discussion! You will receive continuing education credits and you will pay no registration fee. The seminar will be simulcast throughout the state so you will be able to watch it at a location near you!

This will be Illinois’ first multi-agency, simulcast ethics seminar.

View the 2009 brochure including agenda.

Featured Speakers and Round Table Participants:
Dean Martinez, Deputy Governor
Clayton K. Harris III, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Governor
J. Dennis Hastert, former United States Speaker of the House of Representatives
Anne M. Burke, Illinois Supreme Court Justice of the First District
Rodger A. Heaton, United States Attorney for the Central District of Illinois
James A. Wright, - Illinois Executive Inspector General
Sydney R. Roberts, - First Deputy Illinois Executive Inspector General/Chief Operating Officer
James M. Brennan, Illinois Ethics Commission Member and Director of Compliance for Reyes Holdings, L.L.C.
Michelle T. McVicker, Special Agent in Charge USDOT-OIG Chicago Office
John (Jack) B. Tieder, Senior Partner in the law firm of Watt, Tieder, Hoffar & Fitzgerald, L.L.P.
James E. Wolfe, President and Chief Executive Officer of Knight Engineers & Architects.

* Speaking of ethics, Abner Mikva makes some excellent points today

A half century ago, Paul Simon, Anthony “Tony” Scariano and I introduced an ethics bill in the state legislature. We ignored the callous boast of Paul “Shoebox” Powell—then the Illinois speaker of the House who was found after his death in 1970 to have had more than three-quarters of a million dollars in cash stuffed in a shoebox and other containers in his hotel room in Springfield—that “You can’t pass an ethics law I can’t beat.” It didn’t matter: We couldn’t get the bill out of committee.

On Jan. 1, a strong ethics bill took effect in Illinois and that’s good. But I’m beginning to wonder whether Powell had a point. […]

Unfortunately, even if all the ethics laws that have been proposed over the years had been in place, they at best would have added an extra count to the criminal indictments of a Blagojevich or a Ryan. Keeping such disasters from happening is much harder than just passing ethics laws.

But he adds…

We had better become more thoughtful about our partners: A nice hairdo or a firm handshake ought not be enough.

The media is just as culpable here. The Tribune, for instance, portrayed Glenn Poshard as the unethical bad guy in 1998 because he bent some of his self-imposed contribution limits. Rod Blagojevich was able to get away with smearing both Jim Ryan and Judy Baar Topinka with his dinky little charges.

Yes, most political reporters did their best to expose Blagojevich in 2006, and it wasn’t enough. Voters deserve the lion’s share of the blame.

But, in the future, we all need to look at the big picture.

* Mikva also came out forcefully for contribution limits, a sentiment echoed by the SJ-R editorial board

Federal elections have shown that campaign contribution limits are no panacea. Outside interest groups circumvent them. Candidates enlist fundraisers to package together groups of people willing to contribute the maximum together, a practice known as bundling. Those who bundle probably get their phone calls returned pretty quickly when they have an issue that a senator, congressman or the president has to weigh in on.

Nevertheless, limiting campaign contributors to a dollar amount might stem the pigs-at-the-trough campaign finance mentality that has flourished under Blagojevich and is central to his alleged crimes.

Congress has proved Paul Powell right time and time again. they’ll always find a way around reforms, but I’m wondering if you think limits will do any good.

* Related…

* Rod Blagojevich’s Enablers

* A great opportunity for reform — and a great choice to seek it

* Beyond Blago: Does anyone care about Illinois economy?

* UNO Calls for Blagojevich’s Resignation


  1. - Pat Collins - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:40 am:

    Real reform comes from limiting or banning ads on TV cable, and radio.

    Until and unless that happens, it will be like computer viruses. Each time the virus blocker gets better, the hackers find a new hole.

  2. - anon agin - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:45 am:

    What is hastert going to teach how to buy land and secure the funding to sell back to the govment at large profit

  3. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:46 am:

    Mikva, is of cource, correct.

    - VanillaMan - Monday, Jan 5, 09 @ 1:47 pm:

    …When your politics is corrupt, then the corruptions flows throughout the system. Those that rely on The Law are worshipping a false god.

    Citizens are empowered to make these [political] decisions. They choose among themselves as to whom they would like to hold public office. They make these decisions based on many factors. Each of us decide differently. We just elected Obama president based on “hope and change”. There was nothing legal about that [personal choice], unless you considered your vote based on legalities.

    In Illinois, our politics [have become] corrupted. Trying to clean up our state government via the laws written by the government itself is a fool’s errand, [because we are trying to fix a political problem using the wrong tools, (law). The correct tools to use in Illinois are the political ones; party nominations, campaigns and elections. We have allowed political corruption to infiltrate our political parties because of their focus on “winning” elections, instead of nominating the “best individuals”. The fault of the past decade isn’t due to the voters - it is due to their dependancy on two corrupted political parties willing to nominate corrupted people and support them as they corrupt our public offices.]

    Voters must demand a higher standard of excellence than the ones we’ve been seeing in Illinois. Our standards are too low.

    There is a difference between The Law and politics, which makes and judicates the law. Passing more laws will not address the underlying political corruption with the political parties themselves.

    This is why we are seeing voters support dynasties. They have more faith in family names than in the political party’s nominations. Voters recognize the increasing irrelevance of party nominations as a sign of quality and ethics. Yet they still wish to vote. Consequentially, they support dynasties within Illinois state government, for good and bad reasons.

  4. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:51 am:

    I think campaign finance is misleading. A number of poorly funded canidates have prevailed in the political arena by having the message and appearance voters were after. We might as well debate whetehr it is fai for a canidate who has a lot of charisma and speaks well to run against one who lacks these abilities. After all, should we not level the playing field to include intelligient people who do not speak well publicly and lack charisma?

    Canidates with good messages win; those who can not put together a strong plat form loose.

    If all it took was money oberweiss would have been in office years ago. Blago may have outspent Topinka, but before we get drawn into the money debate lets remeber that she ran a horrible campaign, with little to no clear message.

  5. - robo - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:54 am:

    On the whole post…

    They/He were not just unethical, They/He broke the LAW. They are are criminals, not ethically challenged. There are laws against this sort of thing and They/He were not deterred. More laws will not solve this problem, only a change in attitudes and intolerance of this behavior.

  6. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:54 am:

    Remember that everything evolves. We may be witnessing the death of political parties. We have been seeing mercenaries run for public office without much party support. The Illinois GOP has been doing this for years. If political party nominations are meaningless except for the financial support they provide campaigners, maybe they are no longer useful political institutions.

    Perhaps, it will be political corruption that finally ends the political party chapter in US politics.

    Corrupter politics results in corrupted laws that are easily circumvented.

  7. - vole - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:54 am:

    “Voters deserve the lion’s share of the blame.”

    Jim Edgar said the same argument. Without much criticism.

    Maybe reporters did their job. But just how many voters had access to it or if they did, how many voters in IL read it? The political news coverage by local TV stations, at least down state, is deplorable.

    I’d have to put more blame on the political parties themselves. The inherent weaknesses, corruption within both parties, emphasis on wrong issues, intra-party battles, and enablers of Blagojevich within both camps, created the conditions for this monster to thrive in Illinois.

    Don’t castigate the voters. Castigate the votee and the votee’s co-votees. The system sucks!

  8. - raisin - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:55 am:

    Your point on media culpability is a key one but it’s societal, too.

    I always thought Glenn Poshard got a raw deal from the Chicago media because he was from far downstate. He didn’t look smooth, didn’t talk smooth, so they made fun of him or portrayed him as backward. The Chicago liberal crowd didn’t like him, either, mainly because he was pro-life, so a lot of them went with George Ryan. Poshard was no saint in the ethics department, but he would’ve served us a lot better than George Ryan or Rod Blagojevich.

  9. - ILPundit - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:56 am:

    I notice that the State Executive Inspector General is also on the list.

    It makes me wonder why, in light of recent events, there has been no discussion of the complete failure of the Governor’s Office of Inspector General.

    All of this corruption under Blagojevich — where has the OIG been?

    Remember this office was created with great fanfare in 2003 in the post-Ryan era. And this is an office that hired people to investigate any allegation leveled in state government as if it were a quasi-criminal matter. It was literally made illegal for state employees to NOT cooperate with the OIG.

    I know that, at least during the first few years of the administration, it was not uncommon for these investigators to pull state employees into interviews over matters as mundane as an employee being regularly 15 minutes late to work, and interrogate state employees with their intimidating good cop/bad cop routine.

    I even know of one former state employee who was pursued by OIG inspectors for interviews after they had left state employment, and threatened with legal sanction if they refused to cooperate with the internal investigation — again, they were not even state employees anymore.

    A lot of heavy handed, BS tactics. Precicely zero results, and we still don’t know exactly why Z. Scott left so early in her term.

    There is a major story there somewhere. I wish we could find out about it.

  10. - Nero - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:56 am:

    Campaign finance and all the those other so-called remedies don’t hit at the true heart of the matter. The one true reform would be for voters to start electing true quality candidates. But when we keep picking from the bad barrel… you’ll only get bad apples. At the end of the day… it’s on the voters.

  11. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:56 am:

    There is definitely some irony here, but Clayton Harris has impeccable judgment and ethics.

    You can build a better mousetrap, but if the mouse knows they aren’t going to get caught or there’s no penalty for getting caught, who cares?

    Why do we have high homicide rates? Because 54% of murders go unsolved.

    Why do candidates skirt election laws? Because when guys like Calvin Giles DO get caught, there’s no punishment. When a city of chicago contractor gets caught violating ethics rules, its lifetime ban on doing city business is commuted after a few years.

    Contribution caps sound great on paper, but without public financing, they create an incredible advantage for both incumbents (who have had time to build their fundraising operations) and for wealthy self-financiers.

    Banning contributions from state contractors WILL end pay-to-play, atleast for a time. Even Rod’s simpleton yet devious noggin understood that, thus his furious efforts to shakedown everyone before the ban took place.

    I can’t remember EVERY detail of the ethics bill, but add a lifetime ban on state contractors who violate the law, a lifetime ban on holding public office for candidates who get caught, whistleblower cash incentives on both ends, and throw in some jailtime for both. You’ll see pay-to-play go the way of the carrier pigeon.

  12. - Suzanne - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:57 am:

    Campaign finance and stronger ethics legislation will not eliminate all criminals or edge-skirters, true, but that’s not a reason not to get the statutes on the books. I think the most compelling reason to impose limits in Illinois is that they will reframe the political culture, the expectations that track big money contributions, and establish a statutory basis for what constitutes “normal” fundraising.

  13. - You Go Boy - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 10:59 am:

    =Voters deserve a lions share of the blame=

    Yes, those that voted for Gov. “I, Me, Mine”, particularly in ‘06. Don’t lump those with good antennae with those who voted without discerning, or worse yet, did what they were told.

  14. - vole - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 11:02 am:

    I put the blame squarely on both parties in IL. The system selected for Blago. He just didn’t evolve from the muck.

  15. - BannedForLife - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 11:17 am:

    where did the Mikva piece run? thanks

  16. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 11:21 am:

    Oops. Forgot the link. Added now. Tribune.

  17. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 11:51 am:

    Corruption is so deeply rooted in the political culture here (but not just here). The only thing that’s seemed to work in my lifetime has been an aggressive U.S. Attorney who’s willing to go to the top and keep the criminals jumping.

    Consider our culture. The feds have been going after The Outfit since the time of Capone. Yet we’ve had governors from both parties, congressmen, mayors, aldermen, etc. who’ve continued to play footsie with them.

    Don Stephens and Frank Maltese were stalwarts of the GOP. Pat Marcy and John D Arco were loyal Dems who ran the Cook County Court system from Booth One at Counselor’s Row for years. I don’t recall anyone, even the “Good Guys” refusing their help at election time, much less calling them out.

    Even “goo-goos” like Larry Bloom and Robert Creamer went to jail.

    If someone has a model for a corruption free governmental system, I’d like to see it. Otherwise, I think you just keep whacking the mole and doing the Diogenes thing.

  18. - Anon - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 11:54 am:

    Is there any documented date and time that the Governor or his staff took the online ethics test last year Did they pass???

  19. - Jake from Elwood - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 12:08 pm:

    Well said Wordslinger. Patrick Fitzgerald has cleansed the system somewhat, and I applaud him for his efforts. But in our state, he would need hundreds of more attorneys and investigators to ferret out each and every lead. The old saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” rings true.

  20. - The Doc - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 12:20 pm:

    Seems to be much chagrin about how the voters are ultimately responsible, and to a large extent this is accurate and fair. And while limiting campaign contributions is no panacea, it is a step in the right direction.

    However, IMHO, much of the problem centers around the egregious redistricting process, which turns the voting process on its head and allows the candidates to choose their constituents.

  21. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 12:25 pm:

    ===much of the problem centers around the egregious redistricting process===

    Which could’ve been remedied with a constitutional convention. The voters turned that down. So, they get what’s coming to them.

  22. - sal-says - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 12:27 pm:

    How many MORE times is ‘Only in Illinois’ going to have to be repeated before the taxpayer/citizens get tired of it an DO something about it?

  23. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 1:20 pm:

    I still prefer the lede or tag “This is Illinois” word or six or whoever co-opted from Blood diamond.

  24. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 1:25 pm:

    Campaign finance reform is essential and limits are a critical component of that.

    I’ve had this argument with conservatives time and time again. Everytime they say, let’s just have disclosure and everything will be ok. But disclosure only works if the press does its job. And time and time again, they don’t.

    Here’s my favorite example. In February of 2002, the Sun-Times reported in their typical D-2 story that Rod had received a check for $265,000 from the SEIU. That check was reported in a matter of fact way with no context. A month before, Rod cast one of the only Democratic votes against federalizing airport security workers. SEIU was behind that vote (they had advocated aggressively for a no vote) and apparently they paid for it a month later. Nobody in the political press made the connection and asked the hard questions.

    If there’s no reporting and no outrage, then transparency in campaign finance just isn’t enough.

  25. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 1:41 pm:

    ===If there’s no reporting and no outrage, then transparency in campaign finance just isn’t enough.===

    Disclosure only works if disclosure can shame people into doing the right thing. There is very little shame in Illinois politics.

  26. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 1:43 pm:

    Ghost, that would’ve been me.

  27. - zatoichi - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 1:59 pm:

    That cash did not just fall into Powell’s shoebox. The law and rules can say anything, look good, even bury some people, but that cash is still going to be available for a favor. Small enough bills and life simply moves on. Ain’t right, but wiring every person who ever comes in contact with a politician is not real either. Ethics? That’s for the little people, to keep them somewhat happy. Campaign reform? TV/radio/news/websites going to give free time for ads. Not likely. If cash is available, some will fall always off the table.

  28. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 2:37 pm:


  29. - this voter will remember - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 5:15 pm:

    A memo was sent out in December announcing the ‘Ethics in the Workplace’ Seminar on 1-7-09. It stated that seating was limited and you needed your supervisors approval prior to signing up. Well I guess they didn’t get enough volunteers because as of Monday 1-5-09, they sent out emails to individuals stating that we were required to attend this 6 hour seminar. What a bleeping joke. The peons that are being forced to attend this seminar are not the ones that need to attend.

  30. - Bookworm - Tuesday, Jan 6, 09 @ 8:38 pm:

    This was a “Reverend” who saw no irony in this kind of ethics training? Maybe he needs to get out his Bible again, and read that part about taking the log out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye…

  31. - Cranky Old Man - Wednesday, Jan 7, 09 @ 8:20 am:

    ===There is definitely some irony here, but Clayton Harris has impeccable judgment and ethics.===
    If this is so, why would he associate himself with the gov?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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