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Illinois Reform Commission: Term Limits For Powerful Politicians, Open Meetings, Cap Campaign Contributions (READ THE PROPOSALS)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- After 100 days poring over stacks of data and testimony, a commission appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn has delivered a sweeping plan Tuesday to clean up Illinois' dirty politics.

(Scroll down to read the specific proposals.)

But it won't be easy.

The Illinois Reform Commission's 34 recommendations include some ideas bound to stir up opposition among lawmakers, including term limits for legislative leaders, capping political donations, strengthening public information laws and more.

Now it's up to Quinn and the Legislature to hash out which ideas will be approved and which will be forgotten.

Here's a look at some of the top proposals:

- Limited-time leadership

Top legislative leaders, like Speaker of the House and Senate President, could only preside for 10 years. The same would hold true for minority leaders.

The point is to limit the amount of power and influence those leaders can harness. Those posts already are powerful; leaders decide which bills are voted on, who sits on what committee and which way to steer the budget. Someone who holds one of those posts for decades can amass even more power.

Michael Madigan has been House speaker since 1983, except for one two-year period. Until his recent retirement, Sen. Emil Jones led Senate Democrats for 16 years, first as minority leader and then as president.

- Smaller donations

Campaign donations would be limited to $2,400 from a person and $5,000 from political committees. Lobbyists also would be banned from giving money to political candidates, and people or businesses with state contracts would be banned from giving to members of the Legislature.

Right now, donations are unlimited in Illinois. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich often collected $25,000 or $50,000 from donors - many of whom ended up with state jobs or contracts.

"We're kidding ourselves if we think that when large contributions are made that there's not something that is expected in return," said Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, a member of a legislative ethics committee.

But other lawmakers say limiting the size of donations would force officials to spend more time raising money or give too big an advantage to rich candidates who can pay for their own campaigns.

- Show me the money

Candidates running for election would have five days to report campaign contributions of more than $1,000 if running for state office and $500 for any other elected post.

Anyone running for political office already has to report every dollar they raised and spent in an election, but the current system says they can wait as long as six months to file the report. Those delays make it impossible for the public or political opponents to link timely donations from special interests to a candidate.

Lawmakers in Springfield aren't terribly opposed to this idea, though novice candidates may be overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork they'll need to file.

- Shining a light in dark places

The Freedom of Information Act would have fewer exemptions and the General Assembly would be subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Public records are meant to be open to public inspection, but many times people are denied the right to see those documents because they fall under numerous exemptions. Under the Blagojevich administration, requests for documents were rejected left and right.

The General Assembly would also have to open itself up to public scrutiny by keeping the doors open to their normally private caucus meetings. The body is the only group exempted from the Open Meetings Act.

- Stay between the district lines

Legislative district lines would be drawn by computer instead of by a room full of lawmakers.

Shortly after the U.S. Census numbers come out every ten years, legislators get together to redraw district maps to ensure each district has the same number of people. The problem is the party in power tries to draw lines to help its members win elections.

The gerrymandering creates districts that snake around different parts of the state and that aren't truly represented by an office holder who lives in another region of Illinois.

The current redistricting system can end in a deadlock broken by random chance. That promotes a winner-take-all political map instead of compromise between the parties.

- Boosting enforcement

The Illinois Attorney General and State Police would have additional tools and authority to sniff out public corruption.

The state now leans on the federal government to investigate public corruption because law enforcement officials in Illinois don't have all the resources they need to do it themselves.

The changes would allow Attorney General Lisa Madigan to independently conduct grand jury investigations for public corruption. She now is restricted to investigations on drugs, gangs and child pornography. The state also would assemble an independent public corruption division within Illinois State Police.

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On the Net:

Illinois Reform Commission: http://reformillinoisnow.org/

-ASSOCIATED PRESS

The outline of the 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.

II. Procurement

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.

III. Enforcement

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.

V. Transparency

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.

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