On May 14, 2009, Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus invited bloggers to a blogger-only discussion regarding progress on upcoming legislation reforming Illinois government. Senators Don Harmon (IL-039, Assistant Majority Leader), Jeff Schoenberg (IL-009, Assistant Majority Leader), and Kwame Raoul (IL-013) were on the call. The bloggers included Disarranging Mine, Carl Nyberg, Animal Farm, Chicagoist, Archpundit, and Philosophe Forum.
An invitation to a blogger-only conference call with Illinois senators on legislative proposals is not a daily occurrence. Sen. Harmon said lawmakers did not get the appropriate attention in the mainstream media. He is right. Reformers never receive any ink. Media is set in their comfort zone. They refuse to cross it. After two consecutive governors that were walking nightmares (and great for selling tabloid news!), it is time for America to see Illinois more positively, less corrupt. In this situation, move outside the box, forget the media, and enter the 21st Century. The Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus succeeded this evening.
Here is the outline of the Illinois Reform Commission’s final proposals for reforming Illinois government:
I. Campaign Finance
To bring greater transparency to the campaign finance process and to reduce the skyrocketing costs of election campaigns in Illinois, the Commission recommends:
A. expanding disclosure requirements for campaign contributions to include:
o Year-round "real time" reporting of contributions,
o Mandatory disclosure of "bundlers" who collect contributions from others, and
o Mandatory disclosure of large "independent" expenditures made by individuals to promote a candidate;
B. limiting campaign contributions to:
o $2,400 for individuals, and
o $5,000 for political committees;
C. banning outright contributions from lobbyists and trusts;
D. extending the "Pay to Play" ban by forbidding vendors with large state contracts from contributing to members of the legislature;
E. establishing a pilot project for public financing of judicial elections in 2010;
F. strengthening ISBE enforcement of campaign laws and greater transparency of ISBE sanctions and proceedings; and
G. moving primary elections closer to general elections to reduce length of campaign and resulting costs.
To help cure state procurement abuse in Illinois, the Commission recommends:
A. insulating the state procurement officials from political pressure and making them independent;
B. cutting back loopholes and exemptions in Procurement Code;
C. applying the Procurement Code to legislative, judicial branches and quasi-governmental agencies;
D. subjecting no-bid and "emergency" contracts to much tighter scrutiny and limitations;
E. establishing an Independent Contract Monitor to oversee and review contracts; and
F. creating greater transparency in the procurement process including:
o Disclosure of subcontractors,
o Disclosure of all lobbyists and agents representing vendors,
o Documenting any contact between vendors/agents and procurement staff, and
o Providing public access to all procurement information on one website.
The Commission recommends that the ability of state law enforcement to investigate and prosecute corruption be enhanced by:
A. amending and enhancing state laws to provide prosecutors and investigators with many of the same tools available to federal authorities;
B. adding significant corruption offenses to the existing list of offenses that are non-probationable;
C. granting the Illinois Attorney General the authority to independently conduct grand jury investigations of public corruption offenses;
D. directing additional resources to the investigation of public corruption crimes, by creating an independent public corruption division within the Illinois State Police; and
E. modifying the laws applicable to Inspectors General's Offices to improve the ability of Inspectors General to independently conduct investigations.
IV. Government Structure
To address structural problems that enable and produce corruption and inefficiency in state government, the Commission recommends:
A. adopting legislation to restore fairness to the process by which state legislative and congressional districts are drawn;
B. supporting pending legislation regarding term limits for legislative leadership positions;
C. amending House and Senate Rules applicable to the budget approval process to restore an effective system of checks and balances; and
D. amending the House and Senate Rules to ensure that each piece of proposed legislation that has a minimum number of sponsors receives a full committee vote.
To improve and enhance the transparency of State government, the Commission recommends:
A. applying Open Meetings Act to General Assembly;
B. adopting presumption in favor of disclosure in FOIA requests;
C. reducing exemptions to FOIA and Open Meetings Act so that citizens have greater access and knowledge of government records and decision-making;
D. enhancing the penalties for violation of FOIA and Open Meetings Act requirements;
E. establishing an Independent Office of Transparency to provide training and ensure compliance with FOIA and OMA requirements; and
F. greatly expanding and enhancing the use of modern technology to improve disclosure, reporting and collaboration in state government.
VI. Inspiring Better Government
The Commission proposes the following reforms to inspire all state government workers and restore citizens' confidence in the integrity of State government:
A. combating patronage by reforming the personnel system to better protect a-political positions and the employees who hold them;
B. reforming the State's hiring process;
C. establishing a code to guide everyday decision-making and holding state employees accountable for abiding by the code;
D. revising the ethics training system to improve state employees' understanding of relevant ethical standards;
E. more clearly defining whistleblower protections to ensure and expand coverage for state employees; and
F. creating additional safeguards to protect against ethical violations by those exiting state employment.
Campaign Finance – The recommendation adopts the federal model. Limits could be too low with unintended consequences. The General Assembly is working on it so that it becomes a fair & level playing field.
Contracting – From the recommendation, legislators are working to create a firewall against political influences for the decision makers. The web provides accountability & transparency. It is a tool that has become effective. They know it is well passed time to take advantage and begin using it to the fullest. One of the justifications would have been full-disclosure of sub-contractors on the Chicago toll-way debacle.
Enforcement – The recommendations for campaign finance reform will start at the State’s Supreme Court level and trickle down to subsequent court levels eventually. Legislators would like to see localities obtain local prosecutors the same as U.S. attorneys. Electing people with such power can be such dangerous things.
Government Transparencies – Although the Commission’s recommendations did not include it, Archpundit suggested that the State Board of Elections obtain a better data base system. Online users have been desperate for a user-friendly accessible and searchable database for several election cycles now at ever level of government. Now it is especially relevant for court races since the last one cost $10 million compliments out-of-state money pouring in. Externalities are always trying impact tort reform or other critical issues. It will only get worse.
Although the Collins commission has no real-world experience, an independent body endorsed their recommendations. The senators found the recommendations easy to develop into legislative proposals. The year-round, real-time contribution reports are feasible and reasonable with a 48-hr turnaround time during campaigns. Legislators can refine the ideas when they are not campaigning. They also hope to prohibit contingency fees for people that really do not do work (i.e., investment deals, bond deals supporting the governor only to get a sizable commission). That is now against the law. They have already eliminated much of that activity.
Ethics Reform has be local to work – and work well. This is a cooperative venture with people outside of the political process. There is already a significant broad agreement between a bi-partisan legislature and the commission. The legislature has also taken ownership for past plea agreements, indictments, court proceedings, teacher retirement issues, and the health facility problems.
This has been a tough job. There are successes, new laws, a lot of work with stress levels and weary eyes to prove it. The bi-partisanship provides promise for the future. The Media has been a deaf ear to their efforts. They are not the right audience any way so it makes no difference.
The real audience is the people of Illinois.
And the real work begins for the representatives of Central and Southern Illinois.
Labels: Don Harmon, General Assembly, Jeff Schoenberg, Kwame Raoul