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About that ethics bill… *** UPDATED x1 ***

Wednesday, Sep 24, 2008

* As you already know, the Senate passed a broad ethics bill yesterday that was identical to the governor’s amendatory veto language in another ethics bill.

There’s been little actual analysis of this particular bill, other than the sharp criticisms about it being a product of Gov. Blagojevich’s mind so, therefore, it can’t be much good.

There are actually some decent ideas in this proposal. But some of it is just goofy.

We are supposed to have a citizens assembly in Illinois, not a full-time professional legislature. This bill begins the process of trying to define who can and cannot be a member of the General Assembly. That’s a foolhardy step. Here’s the language

No member of the General Assembly, during the term for which he has been elected or appointed, may be employed by the State, a municipality, or unit of local government. This prohibition does not extend to employment as an elected official, firefighter, police officer, school counselor, teacher, or university instructor.

As one Senator pointed out earlier this week, the bill’s fine print allows a legislator to teach at a university, but not at a community college. Another noted that a legislator couldn’t be a part-time high school coach. Still others have complained that a doctor or nurse at Cook County Hospital would have to give up their jobs.

This is what happens when you start drawing lines. Where do you stop? Should farmers be excluded because they receive massive government subsidies and special tax breaks? What about business owners located in TIF districts? What about state government contractors, most of whom are now banned from contributing to the governor’s campaign fund?

Cindi Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform made this point to Eric Zorn yesterday

Getting rid of double-dippers sounds great, but there are so many exceptions in the bill that it’s sure to be challenge as a violation of the equal protection clause.

I fully agree with that.

* I have no problem at all with extending that contractor campaign contribution ban to state parties. As Senate President Emil Jones rightly notes, it will be just too easy to get around the gubernatorial ban - which also applies to declared candidates - by washing the cash through a state party. Since Attorney General Lisa Madigan is gearing up to run for governor, that seems like a reasonable worry. Same goes for the Republican Party.

Cindi Canary strongly disagrees

(I)t makes no sense to ban political parties and individual legislators from taking contributions from people with state contracts because parties and legislators don’t enter into those contracts. If [Blagojevich] wants to limit parties and lawmakers, he should try to do it with contribution and transfer limits. This approach is a waste of time.

Contribution and transfer limits may or may not be a good idea. The transfer limits might quell the legislative leaders’ stranglehold on campaign money. But the contribution limits have done little to no good in DC politics. I just don’t think this contractor thing is a “waste of time.” Good for the goose, good for the gander.

*** UPDATE *** Here’s a clarification from Canary…

Unlike HB 824, SB 780 would prohibit campaign donations to political
committees that have no connection to the officer who lets the contract. Because that kind of ban treads heavily on contractors’ constitutional rights to free speech and association, the courts likely would rule it to be unconstitutional – but only after a lengthy and expensive court battle.

Example - Under the governor’s proposal, the owner of a company contracting to supply the Office of Treasurer more than $50,000 in computers, copiers, legal services or anything else would be prohibited from making a contribution to any political party, every state legislator, every candidate for the General Assembly, every statewide constitutional officer and every candidate for those offices.

It’s very likely a court would rule that an infringement on free speech.

Because campaign contributions are a protected activity under the 1st Amendment, legislation to regulate contributions must be narrowly tailored to address a compelling government interest. That’s what the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. A wide-ranging BAN like that would not meet the test of a narrowly tailored restriction on campaign contributions. However, a LIMITATION ON THE AMOUNT of a contribution by individuals - whether an executive with a firm contracting with the
state or not — to ALL political committees would pass any constitutional test.

To sum it up — Because it quite likely would be ruled unconstitutional, it isn’t worth the effort to try to expand the ban on state contractor (the corporation, executives, owners, etc.) campaign contributions. It would be better to spend time on something we know to be constitutional — banning contributions by ALL orporations (whether doing business with the state or not) and by all unions and associations. At the same time, Illinois should limit the amount that any individual person can contribute in an election cycle and limit how much a political committee can transfer to other committees.

[END OF UPDATE 1]

* I agree in part with Canary here…

Some pieces of this bill are fine. The affirmative pay raise provision [requiring lawmakers to vote for legislative pay raises instead of allowing them to get the raise by not voting against them] is a fine idea. But it should be stripped out and run as a separate bill, not embedded in all this other crap.

Why not put it into a broader package of reforms?

* Nobody, no group, has the singular right to own a particular issue, so I disagree with some of this

I resent the idea that suddenly Blagojevich thinks he gets to set the agenda on what real ethics reform is with this slap-shot proposal. We’ve been working the pay-to-play ban for three years, and how he want to ram this through in 24 hours.

He’s the guv. He can do what he wants. And he does. lol

* And, while a bit harsh, this is spot on

The senate voted to approve it today, but all the conversation I heard on the floor was how the bill wasn’t really ready, it sure needed more work. It looks to me as thought [the members of the senate] decided to vote for the bill to give themselves the ability to tell their constituents that they voted for ethics reform. It looks like a very cynical vote to me.

Cynical? Yep. Effective politics? Maybe so.

* Related…

* Gov misleads on ethics reform

* State Senate Approves Ethics Bill

* Governor strikes back: pass ethics proposal of their own

* Senate approves ethics reforms

* Evolution of the ethics bill

* Ethics? In Illinois?

* An ethics step, but more are needed

* SJ-R Opinion: State ethics overhaul must be done right

* Senate passes Blago-backed ethics bill

* PJ Star View: Illinois ethics law overdue, but welcome

- Posted by Rich Miller        

22 Comments
  1. - Bill - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 9:56 am:

    So stuff that ICPR (we?)work on is good and everything else is bad? Why should ethics apply only to this particular governor? Don’t you think that allowing contributions to state parties is the same as allowing them to the governor, current one excepted?
    Who elected Cyndi and ICPR to be the final arbiter of ethics?
    It is business as usual with Rod cut out of the graft.


  2. - Dan S. a Voter and Cubs Fan - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:02 am:

    The GA is missing a great oppurtunity for ethics reform, they should start by impeaching this Governor then work on legislation for going forward.


  3. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:06 am:

    I suspect a lot of this stuff is poison pill and wouldn’t withstand constitutional challenges.


  4. - The Doc - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:07 am:

    Bill, come on. I think we all agree that similar ethics legislation applicable to the GA (and, in my mind, extended to local pols as well) is both fair and necessary. But that you’re defending the most investigated governor in the state’s history regarding ethics is laughable. He’s had six years to create and promote ethics reform, and is now asking legislators to hastily adopt his bill in a couple of days?


  5. - Slightly Right - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:17 am:

    The double-dipping portion of the legislation makes little sense. Why allow a Chicago Police Officer to serve as legislator and not a Cook County Nurse? I fail to see the logic in exempting some but not others. This is not a full-time professional legislature, nor should it be.


  6. - Plutocrat03 - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:23 am:

    I’m probably more against double dipping than the average taxpayer, but I don’t want to have a dictatorship in this state.

    The point is to work through the legislative process. Ideas are put in the mill (from all sources including the Gov.) and with any luck, a final product emerges including the best of the ideas.

    In most instances the input from good government organizations is well worth considering. It is certainly not gospel, but there will always be some good points.

    Despite Bill’s paranoia, realities do have to be considered. While the Governor and many offices are considered full time, should they be treated the same as part time legislators as far as outside employment? I don’t have an answer at this time, but the Governor should not have a right to take away an income from someone by the stroke of his pen.


  7. - GOP'er - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:24 am:

    If Canary doesn’t understand how money gets funneled in this game in this state, she should get off the field.

    Leaving the state parties out for example would just make things worse. Awful incentives would be created, plus it gets harder to follow the money. You’ll see money being passed on but it will be impossible to prove a violation.

    This already goes on in some of the big judicial races where a corporate donor doesn’t want to give to the judge or future judge directly, because they don’t want the judge they are electing to have to exclude himself or herself from any future case involving that company. A state party or another group (like the Chamber of Commerce) will be the go-between instead.

    The real question is do we just want “feel good” legislation, or something that will really address the problem.


  8. - Captain Flume - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:25 am:

    == Cynical? Yep. Effective politics? Maybe so. == That string of words effectively encapsulates the public’s perception of politicians and the reality of governing in Illinois. We all are a party to the way this state is run, because saying we are messed up is our excuse for being messed up. I think we are all sociopaths on this bus.


  9. - lifer - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:28 am:

    Maybe I am being too simplistic but why can’t it be a full time job. Then there is no parsing of what someone can and can’t do. They are a legislator–period. Raise their pay and restrict any outside employment. Lord knows there is plenty of work that needs to be done from May to January (minus the veto session)not just January to May.


  10. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:34 am:

    The Governor’s proposal to ban double dippers is simply mean spirited- I’ll show you- legislation and shouldn’t have seen the light of day. I believe all of the individuals singled out by the Governor were employed by the governmental body previous to being elected to the part-time State Legislature. The voters chose to allow them to work in both places. To change the laws now is unfair and if passed there should be grandfather clauses which would protect their longevity.

    This is in addition to the points brought up by Rich Miller regarding what constitutes a governmental position. I believe police would be excluded. What does that mean? Get yourself on the Cook County Sheriffs payroll and everything’s okay?

    What is ethically wrong would be misusing your influence as an elected official to benefit yourself and family. Some examples include, the Governor getting his wife a job at a state funded not for profit institution in which he has direct control of funding or his sister in laws activities in getting contracts for a landscaping company with state contracts she is employed by.

    The problem is when the official is exercising undue influence because of the Governmental positions-not what positions they hold.

    The Senate did the cowardly thing in passing this and the House should bury it.


  11. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:43 am:

    ===. Raise their pay and restrict any outside employment.===

    That’s worked so well for Congress.


  12. - GoBearsss - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 10:48 am:

    The problem with Cindi Canary’s argument is that it reeks of “It wasn’t my idea so I don’t support it”-ism.

    Frankly, the last ethics bill didn’t take three and a half years to get done. It sat for three and a half years because there were certain obstacles to getting it done.

    It passed because the door opened.

    The door has opened again. If Cindi Canary and company close that door now, then it WILL take another three and a half years to get done.

    They could have passed this yesterday. They had the language for a month, so they had plenty of time to work up their “fixes”.

    Do it now before the door closes again (and it most certainly will after the election).


  13. - lifer - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 11:17 am:

    =that worked so well for congress=

    Anything is better than what isn’t working now.


  14. - pro - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 11:38 am:

    Yea, what “hard work” actually took place during those 3 years?

    It has been proven time and time again, that if the speakerand president want it, it will pass.


  15. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 11:56 am:

    Lifer, just because Blago says it’s not working doesn’t mean it’s true. When legislatures are in session they are only paid for their elected job. They never truly double dip. Most legislatures I know make more money at their regular job than they do for the elected one, so when they are in session all summer long they lose money-some lots of it.

    Again, Illinois corruption problem is from what elected officials do with their influence-not what jobs they hold.


  16. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 12:10 pm:

    I agree with Bill and Go Bearsss.

    Cindy is full of BS. Any contributions to any politician or political group can grease the skids.

    Overall/over-reaching and “sloppy” reform is better than narrow reform. If the Dems and GOP don’t like it, sue and try the matter before the Supreme Court. If the Supremes don’t like the language and amendments, have them make suggestions of what they wish to strike.


  17. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 12:16 pm:

    And blocking legislators from holding government jobs is a good idea. You could make all the exceptions you wanted, but you would still run into conflicts of interest.

    City of Chicago employee? Votes to give $$$ to Chicago-centric programs and city-run offices/agencies are tainted.

    High school principal? Any vote to increase school funding and any specific money designated for that school district reeks of underhandedness.

    Community college professor? Do I even have to mention the pitfalls?

    Seriously: removing doubt and “what ifs” are always the best policy.


  18. - Irish - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 12:22 pm:

    If all these other folks might have a conflict then lawyers should not be allowed to practice law while they are a legislator. What is more conflicting than having the ability to pass legislation to change a law that might not be good for one of your clients?

    I’ll bet that one wouldn’t get far


  19. - Hooey - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 1:39 pm:

    Slightly Right: If ours is not a “full-time professional legislature,” then we sure as heck shouldn’t continue paying them full-time salaries. I don’t think there’s much objection to legislators having a second job but there seems no overarching benefit for allowing legislators to have a second CITY, COUNTY or STATE job. Maybe I’m missing something . . .

    GoBearss: I think you may misunderstand the reason for ICPRs criticism. They didn’t object because it wasn’t Canary’s idea; they objected because the language was unlikely to withstand the court challenge made inevitable by the sloppy drafting, setting back reform for how ever many years that will take to untangle.

    I don’t think Canary’s aim is own this issue; in fact, she may be sick and tired enough to hand it off for a latte right about now ;-))


  20. - GoBearsss - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 2:16 pm:

    Rich -

    Also want to point out that Madigan’s move to line item all the pork projects last year, and line item every project in a capital bill almost necessitates that lawmakers face the same restrictions.

    You vote to give money in a budget directly to an entity, you shouldn’t be able to collect money from that entity. Even though that money is technically coming from “DCEO” or “Ag”…


  21. - Captain Flume - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 3:04 pm:

    == And blocking legislators from holding government jobs is a good idea. You could make all the exceptions you wanted, but you would still run into conflicts of interest.==

    Public sector employees may have less personal gain from such conflicts than those from the private sector. Imagine a legislature full of bankers, lawyers, insurance agents, doctors, nurses, car dealers, guns shop owners, restauranteurs. Now imagine all the industry-friendly laws and consumer-unfriendly laws that we might have to live with.


  22. - steve schnorf - Wednesday, Sep 24, 08 @ 9:14 pm:

    I agree with Bill.I’ve kinda been wondering when and how Ms Canary got to be the arbiter of ethics in Illinois government and politics.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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