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*** UPDATED x1 *** The back and forth continues: Collins defends himself

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

* 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?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - anon - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:20 am:

    Why do we keep giving Patrick Collins a platform? If he is so interested in true reform, why doesnt he spend a few days actually working in a State government job. Maybe you should learn a little something before you start jumping up and down.

    As for Brown and McMillan - it appears to me that no matter what Brown said, McMillan was predisposed to assume it was a “threat” of some sort from Madigan. No one had to research the members of the Commission - their bios were on the web and anyone who lives near Peoria knows about McMillan’s race. Plus, these weren’t exactly “unknown citizens” of the State.

  2. - You Kidding Me? - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:25 am:

    Let me get this straight, Collins, the Head of the Ethics Reform Commission, wrote a book about his experience and is PROFITING from it, both monetarily and with person publicity?
    Isn’t that the exact type of reforms he was trying to implement…PERSONAL GAIN?
    Even for Illinois that is pathetically ironic?

  3. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:26 am:

    Is that it?

    In yesterdays’s post, Collins and Goudie said there was something sinister and intimidating about Brown’s meeting with McMillan. I still don’t see it.

  4. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:26 am:

    ===and is PROFITING from it, both monetarily and with person publicity?===

    He’s donating all proceeds to reform groups.

    So, please, take a breath.

  5. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:36 am:

    Brown seemed to remember very specific details in his response yesterday, but now he can’t remember if he mentioned Madigan’s concern? And really? Madigan wasn’t interested in a higly publicized commission tasked with looking into campaign reform?

    That sounds a little odd to me.

  6. - Bill - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:36 am:

    Everyone knew this whole commission thing was a waste of time and a political gimmick for the governor. Of course they would have to cut a deal with the legislature (and Madigan) if they wanted to get anything passed. If McMillan needed Brown to tell him that then he was too naive to be on the commission.

  7. - Steve Brown - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:37 am:

    My reading of both the Collins and McMillan comments is that they fail to prove up the “backroom deal” charge.

    It also seems clear that any question or disagreement they receive is considered a personal attack

    It seems they may be a little paranoid too.

    Finally while Brad did pay for the coffee, I believe I offered to buy —- with mmy personal U.S. Currency. I am not sure it really matters.

    Nevertheless the exchange does offer some insights on the varied opinions that exist concerning honest differences of opinion.

    I do appreciate Rich’s venue to expand the discussion on this topic. I owe you a cold Diet Pepsi :)

  8. - You Kidding Me? - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:37 am:

    “He’s donating all proceeds to reform groups.”

    Isn’t that the same as contribuiting PAC money to your favorite candidate or party?
    Is he limiting how much he can give?
    Bottom line is HE is profiting from his appointed position.
    Writing the book and profiting from it is the hight of hypocrisy, even for Illinois!

  9. - dupage dan - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:41 am:

    As the great state of Illinois lurches toward the precipice we are thankful for the efforts of MJM and his staff for keeping us safe from the Mongol hordes of would be reformers. Good to know they think all is well here. I sleep safe at night knowing MJM is watching the gate.

    I think maybe Collins was not the best to have pursued campaign finance. The message has been lost in the delivery.

  10. - Bill - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:43 am:

    ==I sleep safe at night knowing MJM is watching the gate.==
    Me too. He is the only thing standing between us and chaos…..oh wait!

  11. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:53 am:

    I’ve spent time with both Mr Brown and Mr Collins. Brown has never treated me in an arrogant manner. Collins did. Brown has never treated me contemptuously. Collins did.

    If i had to live or die on whether what one of them told me was truthful and could be depended upon, it would take me a nanosecond to choose Brown’s word over Collins’.

  12. - Greg B. - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:08 am:

    Lobbying happens. It’s part of the process. That Steve sought to influence the commission is part of the normal process in a country in which we have the right to petition our govt. and it’s commissions. The commission had the right to reject Steve’s overture. That’s their right.

    I’ve been pressured to “be a team player” in my career, too. It was unseemly. I guess if I broadcast it I could sell a book. But I continue to believe the adult response is to resist and try to work with people where you can while preserving your values, your integrity and your principles.

    There is not a lot of there, here…

  13. - George - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:08 am:

    Was Steve Brown representing the Office of the Speaker of the House or the Democratic Party of Illinois in his conversation with McMillan?

  14. - Bill - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:10 am:

    …and besides all that he put your old boss in the clink!

  15. - Patriot - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:13 am:

    Anon- Really? Does one have to work a state job in order to take an interest in reform? Last time I checked all citizens alike share an interest in good government that works for the people rather than for themselves. Ryan is in jail for his personal gain. Blago stands accused of crimes involving personal gain. These two are opposite parties so there is, at minimum, a good arguement to be made that things need to change.

    I agree that Mr. Collins seems to be taking some of these comments personally, but I find the lack of interest shown by MJM in enacting some reasonable measures which might help prevent this conduct in the future to be the most troubling.

    I can appreciate a crowd here that wants facts rather than insinuations. So here is a fact: this state currently rests on the brink of financial failure, not to mention our issues with high level indictments, and the longest common denominator
    at the highest level is MJM. This is a man who prides himself on his adept navigation around Springfield, and yet he championed Blago to reelection. I guess he missed that one huh?

    These claims that Mr. Collins is personal profiting or a hypocrite for donating book proceeds to a reform cause is pretty rediculous. Judging from some of these comments the book probably is going to top the NYT, so I wouldn’t fret over it.

  16. - Robert - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:14 am:

    Collins: part of reform group. don’t know him.

    Bradley McMillan: a terrific honest guy, despite being a republican. I’m a democrat but have known him for years and would trust him here. But he does need to work on his spelling or typing.

    Brown: works for Madigan. paid to protect his boss.

  17. - Patriot - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:17 am:

    Err I meant not top the NYT..

  18. - Louis Howe - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:19 am:

    The Speaker’s media guy meets with a reform commission member to discuss whether common ground could be reached “to avoid a direct confrontation.” Perhaps, I am missing something, but isn’t that how you actually get something done. Brad McMillan was Ray LaHood’s Chief of Staff during the last remap and certainly understands how to pass legislation. After all, the 18th Cong District was drawn so favorably to LaHood that is was one of only 3 Illinois Congressional Districts to go for McCain in 2008.

  19. - budget boy - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:31 am:

    I’ll take Collins word over Steve Brown any day. Collins spent his life going after arrogrant crooks like George Ryan and his cronies. Brown has spent his life defending MJM, the king of the most corrupt state government in the country.

    If that means Collins comes across as being arrogant to some — so be it!

  20. - Quinn T. Sential - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:45 am:

    ” He also made some remarks about Lt. Gov. Quinn that were negative”

    “he and Madigan wanted to see if there was a way tominimize the reforms recommended so as to avoid a public battle between the Illinois Reform Commission & Quinn and Speaker Madigan”

    This was the Reform that Quinn was for; but since has been against after being co-opted by power and money; not necessarily in that order.

  21. - Eliminate Boodle - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:57 am:

    It is obscenely obvious that certain of you imersed in the political class have a vested personal interest in an anemic effort to marginalize Mr. Collins. You have all failed miserably at governing, legislating, and adjuficating the affairs of state, and I applaud Mr. Collins’ appropriate treatment of the culpable with their appropriate share of disdain.

  22. - Anon - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 10:59 am:

    These comments are upsetting. Why are the people of Illinois threatened by someone who has a passion for changing it? Have we all been brainwashed? Seems like Collins has a true interest in helping us reform this broken state, so why are we giving him a hard time? If he doesn’t help, who will?

  23. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:01 am:

    ===so why are we giving him a hard time? ===

    You step into the public arena and that’s what happens.

    Also, I think it’s perfectly legit to question whether he made a mountain out of a molehill or there really was an attempt at coercion.

    So far, I don’t see any strong-arm here.

  24. - Former Peorian - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:04 am:

    I agree with Robert (10:14 am) about McMillan being a terrific, honest guy (and he probably didn’t think his e-mail would be public). The bottom line is that the Reform Commission did what they were asked to do and were asked to make so many concessions that they could not support the final product. Wasn’t that their job?

    I understand (but don’t entirely agree with) the comments about McMillan possibly being defensive and/or paranoid about Brown. There may be a bit of truth to defensive, but I believe McMillan operates with the mission of creating good government policy and practices and if anything - he is disheartened and/or frustrated.

    In a way, I can see how Reform Commission members might feel used. While the group may have been formed as a political stunt, the truth is that they all took what they were doing very seriously. In fact, their behavior probably seems out of the ordinary because we’re so cynical about real reform happening in the State of Illinois (particularly as we are not the average voter on this blog).

    I’m just saying - I get where McMillan was coming from. He consistently sticks to what he thinks is right and this example is no exception.

  25. - Fr. D - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:19 am:

    I think Rich’s “mountain out of a molehill” comment is really on target. I’m no fan of MJM and agree with most of what Collins’ commission proposed — so I would love to scream bloody murder on this one, but it’s just not there.

  26. - if my memory is correct - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:20 am:

    ===I agree that Mr. Collins seems to be taking some of these comments personally, but I find the lack of interest shown by MJM in enacting some reasonable measures which might help prevent this conduct in the future to be the most troubling.===

    Why do you presume there was a “lack of interest shown by MJM”?

    I recall he and Cullerton chaired a reform committee of their own, which met once or twice a week every week, which was probably the most time those guys spent in committee since they were rank and file.

    I recall the House democrats introduced a dozen or so reform bills that were negotiated with the interested parties (at least that’s what I understand from newspaper reports).

    I recall the Governor didn’t jump and down or push reform bills of his own. His office didn’t seem to say that the Reform Commission had the world’s best ideas.

    I recall the GA ultimately passed an incredibly tough ethics bills that ensures transparency on every level (just ask Tammi Hoffman whose EEC report is now public thanks to MJM’s “lack of interest”). I recall the GA passed a rewrite of FOIA and a complete overhaul of the procurement system.

    So why do you think MJM or the members of the GA had a lack of interest in reform? Just because people disagree as to what constitutes a “reasonable measure” doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of interest. The GA made significant reforms, but no one wants to recognize those because there are different ideas as to what is considered “reform.”

  27. - D.P. Gumby - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:36 am:

    Mr. Collins seems to have taken w/ him his “prosecutorial mindset” wherein a prosecutor interprets every action by everyone as either criminal or part of a criminal enterprise. Be sure that, if there was a way, this meeting would be yet another example of “depriving the citizens of their intangible right of honest services”!!

  28. - Justin Green - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:40 am:

    ====I recall he and Cullerton chaired a reform committee of their own, which met once or twice a week every week, which was probably the most time those guys spent in committee since they were rank and file.====

    MJM and Cullerton’s “Reform Committee” was a complete joke. It was an attempt to take all attention away from the Governor’s Reform Commission, because they did not want true reform. MJM has consistently fought true reform, while Pat Collins and Brad McMillan have consistently fought for it. Some of you say that Collins has done this for attention, but he is only getting the attention for disturbing a hornet’s nest. That is how you change things. You infuriate the unethical people in control, and as a result you get attention….good and bad.

  29. - Corduroy Bob - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:41 am:

    Looks like the literal “shakedown” allegation came from Chuck Goudie. I can’t believe he’d get it wrong or sensationalize it in any way; we’re talking modern Edward R. Murrow here.

  30. - David Ormsby - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 11:52 am:

    Perhaps, due to his super-hero hubris, Patrick Collins fails to understand the basics of the Illinois Constitution or the context in which he operated.

    The power to make laws is granted to the Illinois General Assembly not advisory commissions established by the governor, not even if they are empaneled with outsize egos.

    Collins’ commission proposed and the legislature disposed.

    Perhaps if Collins had chained his arrogance to a fence post and refrained from alleging corruption against the legislative branch while it was the executive branch that had been emitting corruption, he might have actually generated relevant ideas that the legislature could have fully more embraced.

    Instead, he misused his commission position to engage in character assassination of the very legislative leaders who had attempted to bridle the Blagojevich Administration.

    And their thanks?

    Collins condemns them for corruption.

    Steve Brown is right about this guy.

  31. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 12:01 pm:

    Yes, I think it is timely to remember that Collin’s commission came about as a result of corruption in the Executive Branch, and he used it to instead attackn the legislative branch. Who might think he had a vendetta against Madigan?

  32. - Greg B. - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 12:31 pm:

    Steve and David make really good points.

    You want to launch your career via chairing a commission? Do the task assigned and be a workhorse, not a show horse. Illinois politics rewards the former and dismisses the latter.

  33. - MOON - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 12:44 pm:

    The bottom line on all this ” Reform ” business is that different people have their own definition of what is ” Reform .” When Collins and his members did not get their version of ” Reform “, Collins called into question the Speakers ethics.

    Anyboby with an ounce of intelligence knows Madigan is without a doubt the most honest elected official in this State. Just consider the recent investigations by the Tribune re: ” Madigans law business ” and the investigation re: “part time State employees ” working on political campaigns.In both instances nothing was uncovered that in any way indicated Madigan did not follow the law and his ethical obligations.

    Many disagree with the Speakers approach to the problems facing Illinois, but never question his ethics! He has no skeletons in his closet. Its time for Collins and the media to find a new whipping boy !

  34. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 12:45 pm:

    White Knights need dragons. Without them, they are out of work, or even worse, out of the spotlight. So they can be depended on to find dragons, large or small, good or evil, dangerous or benign, there by God will be dragons and they must be slain, to protect the people. I guess we can always hope Collins and his ilk will be satisfied with just fair maidens, but I ain’t holding my breath.

    After operation with the full power and majesty of the government of the United States of America as your lever, it’s probably quite jarring to be told no.

  35. - Steve Brown - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 12:48 pm:

    Interesting discussion.

    I sought the meeting with McMillan on my own and not at anyone’s direction. The views I stated were my own.

    It might be hard for some to understand, but after more than 25 years around state and local government and journalism I do have my own thoughts based on my own experiences.

    Sometimes I share those views with others. Since the LaHood staffer I knew told me Mr. McMillan was a good person to get to know, I thought all of my comments were appropriate, not intended to threaten and certainly not designed to suggest a backroom deal.

    I did not mention my Daily Herald letter to the Speaker until the paper decided to publish slightly edited version. I did not write the letter until Mr. Collins published his distorted version of my meeting and Goudie worked his magic.

    Hope that clears up some of the questions

  36. - Obamarama - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 12:53 pm:

    Schnorf for Poet Laureate

  37. - Patriot - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 1:07 pm:

    Re: if my memory is correct

    It’s wrong. And I’ll correct you by citing the quote from Mr. Brown, MJM’s official speaker:

    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.

    That statement was when the commission was first appointed. So yes, it fair to say you’re wrong

  38. - JonShibleyFan - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 1:19 pm:

    The evidence of coercion is tenuous at best. Perhaps Collins was hearing what he wanted to hear.

    The fact that Chuck Goudie is involved makes me even more suspicious. His muckraking act always has more than a whiff of sensationalism to it.

  39. - Corduroy Bob - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 1:55 pm:

    ShibleyFan, when Geraldo Goudie rises to the level of muckraking, I’ll be impressed.

  40. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 1:58 pm:

    You know this wouldn’t be a problem for Mr. Collins if his book was read by as many people as his Commission report.

  41. - if my memory is correct - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 3:37 pm:


    Brown’s comment that “Madigan wasn’t much interested in the reform commission at that point” does not mean that Madigan wasn’t interested in reform. I take that to mean that Madigan didn’t give two hoots about the creation of a Commission formed by Quinn and chaired by Collins.

    Anyone who has been around the Capitol for more than 2 minutes would know that whatever results and recommendations of the Commission, regardless of good intentions, would not amount to much. You cannot reform government if you don’t understand how it works. So why would Madigan give the commission more than passing thought?

  42. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 3:46 pm:

    –After operation with the full power and majesty of the government of the United States of America as your lever, it’s probably quite jarring to be told no.–

    It must drive them crazy.

  43. - JonShibleyFan - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 3:52 pm:

    “Geraldo Goudie” - lol.

    Note that I said muckracking ACT.

  44. - Arthur Andersen - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:14 pm:

    Although I enjoy jousting, ususally unsuccessfully, with Steve’s alter ego here on the blog, I’ve always thought he worked hard and straight up for the Speaker. I’ve been fortunate and never had to meet Collins in his past life, but was not impressed from the gitgo with how he comported himself as “Chairman of Reform.” I felt like he viewed the Commission’s work as one more prosecution-all who raised questions were dismissed as biased, and while saying otherwise, he acted as if he was accountable only to PQ (who tossed him under the bus anyway..)

    Simply based on reputation and demeanor, I would trust Brown much more than Collins to deliver the most accurate version of this interesting exchange.

  45. - Curious - Thursday, Feb 25, 10 @ 9:54 pm:

    Collins writes a book to profit reform groups (yeah right), little David Hoffman tries to run for Senate.

    Two former prosecutors who tried to use the Reform Commission as jump-off platforms but fell on their arrogant faces.

    My heart bleeds for them……

  46. - Will County Woman - Friday, Feb 26, 10 @ 2:07 am:

    Bill is good—very good.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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