Reform Commission: “Start Some Fires”

Blueprint for change curbs political corruption

The reform commission launched by Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled a sweeping blueprint for change Tuesday, calling for curbs on the types of political corruption expected to be detailed in an impending indictment of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The commission's tentative recommendations for legislative action include capping individual campaign contributions at $2,400, protecting procurement officials from political pressure and strengthening the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency under the proposals.

Commission chairman and former federal prosecutor Patrick M. Collins said the blueprint's release was timely because "we're just hours away from a massive pay-to-play indictment against Gov. Blagojevich and possibly others."

A federal judge has given prosecutors until April 7 to obtain an indictment backing up the charges in a Dec. 9 criminal complaint that accuses Blagojevich of trying to sell President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat and attempting to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who were calling for his impeachment. He denies wrongdoing.

Quinn, who took over after Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in January, launched the commission as one step in coping with the corruption allegations many say have made Illinois a laughingstock.

Collins emphasized the point Tuesday with a video clip of Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's satirical "The Daily Show," ridiculing Illinois politics and presenting joke statistics showing the state's governors are imprisoned more frequently than murderers.

Other provisions of commission's plan include: requiring politicians to report $1,000 contributions within five business days, barring lobbyists from donating to campaigns and requiring the disclosure of the names of all state subcontractors and lobbyists.

The commission plans to continue through April and make additional recommendations, all of which would need to be considered by state Legislature.

Commission member Sheila Simon, daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon, said Illinois needs sweeping political reform. She cited a remark by onetime Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell she found in a book of her father's.

The book concerned former state Auditor Orville Hodge, who was sent to prison for siphoning off $1 million in state money. Said Powell: "Just because the preacher runs off with someone's wife doesn't mean you burn down the church."

"But I think it's time to start some fires," Simon said.

Also Tuesday, top Democrats in the Legislature introduced a plan to clean house at state pension boards.

Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan want to rid four pension boards of anyone appointed by Blagojevich so Quinn can make new appointments. The purge would apply to boards overseeing retirement funds for teachers, university employees, state government workers and more.

The legislation would expand the size of several boards, reducing the influence of any single member, and allow participation by more people not picked by the governor.

Federal prosecutors say Blagojevich political allies demanded kickbacks from businesses that wanted to do business with the Teachers' Retirement System.

Quinn had yet to read the entire report by an afternoon press conference and stopped short of endorsing the commission's proposal. But he hailed the recommendations as a "good blueprint" for straightening out Illinois politics.

Though Quinn is in favor of campaign limits, he held off from backing the specific plan to cap contributions before reading the full proposal. But he said he would stop at nothing -- including a voter's referendum -- to ensure meaningful ethics reforms are passed.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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