* Yesterday, I told you about how House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown had written a letter flatly denying claims in Patrick Collins’ new book. Brown allegedly “essentially proposed that the [Illinois Reform Commission] cut a deal with the legislature,” according to Collins, who did not name Brown in the book. The allegations resulted from a meeting Brown had with reform commission member Brad McMillan.
Today, Collins published his own letter responding to Brown…
Brown claims I intentionally distorted what happened at the meeting. He is wrong.
Within hours of the Brown meeting, McMillan contacted me and described the unusual session - the two had not previously met - in an e-mail being released today.
“Steve shared his thoughts that the panel had very little real-world political experience and ‘almost none of them had ever written a political campaign check.’ I told him that while the panel may not be the most experienced politically, it was a very diverse and talented group that was truly independent,” McMillan wrote.
Brown also told McMillan that Speaker Madigan wondered whether an agreement could be reached to “avoid a direct confrontation.”
“Steve also had done some research on my campaign for the Illinois Appellate Court (3rd District) and knew that I had taken out a personal loan that was paid back by the generosity of my supporters following my loss in the Republican primary. I think the point he was trying to make is don’t change the system because candidates will not be able to afford to run for political office if you limit contributions. In his opinion, the current rules are fine and it is just a few bad apples giving Illinois a bad reputation. I also think he was subtly trying to show that they were looking into the backgrounds of the commissioners,” McMillan continued.
I have never characterized the meeting as a shakedown. However, I do believe it was Springfield’s way of telling us prospects for success would be dim if our report veered from leadership’s script.
The meeting also troubled other commission members. Nonetheless, we chose to move forward and do our work over the next 100 days. We traveled Illinois, took testimony, drafted a comprehensive blueprint for reform and wrote legislation.
Brown and his boss did not like most of our proposed reforms. And so we lost. That’s the way it works.
By executive order, our commission expired last May. Since that time, a number of us have continued to promote reform as private citizens. That fact galls Brown, as he claims it is important to raise issues about my credibility now lest I further mislead the public.
Brown’s calculated personal attacks do not trouble me. What does trouble me as a citizen is the revelation that he disagrees with the premise of my book that there is a culture of corruption in Illinois that must be challenged. He believes that having 1,500 people - including several governors - convicted of corruption in 40 years is evidence of a 99.99 percent ethical government.
Many of us disagree. Beyond indictments, there are significant parts of government that are broken. Brown has been part of a team that has had power for over two decades to change Illinois, but they have chosen to steer their own course. They have to take their share of the responsibility for the plight we face, both on ethics and on Illinois’ monumental fiscal crisis.
Collins sent me the full McMillan letter, which you can read by clicking here.
I asked Brown today if he specifically passed along the information about how Speaker Madigan wanted to “avoid a direct confrontation.” Brown said he didn’t remember doing it and wouldn’t have anyway because Madigan wasn’t much interested in the reform commission at that point.
Brown also said he would respond in the comment section today.
*** UPDATE *** I have Collins’ book, and this is what he wrote…
Within days of the [Illinois Reform Commission’s] formation, we received a not-so-subtle message about the type of reception that awaited us in Springfield.
Unbeknownst to me, one of our commission members received an unexpected call from a top aide to Speaker Michael Madigan. He asked the member to meet for coffee to discuss “ideas on ethics reform,” and the member agreed to meet. However, instead of any discussion or exchange of substantive ideas on ethics reform, the aide essentially proposed that the IRC cut a deal with the legislature up front in order to avoid, as the aide put it, a direct “confrontation” with the legislative leadership.
When I received word of this visit, I passed on the information of the not-so-subtle message we were being sent to my fellow commissioners. Our decision: There would be no backroom deals; we would roll up our sleeves, get to work, and generate a thoughtful product for the public.
So, did Collins overstate the content of the meeting in order to gin up his fellow commissioners? Or was this a legit read of the meeting?