Unprecedented Campaign Contribution Caps Approved, But Big Loopholes Remain
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Money donated to politicians would be limited for the first time in Illinois history under a plan backed by Gov. Pat Quinn but opposed by the same commission he appointed to find ways of scrubbing the state's ethical stain.
The Executive Committee OK'd limiting individual contributions to $5,000 a year and $10,000 from a corporation or political organization, a proposal Quinn dubbed a "landmark" in a state whose "Wild West" reputation for campaign finance has gotten its last two governors in trouble with federal law.
"Never in the history of Illinois - the state has been around since 1818 - have we had such far-reaching campaign finance reform," Quinn told the committee.
It also requires quarterly reporting of political accounts - instead of twice annually - more frequent publication of large donations, and limits on the amount of money parties can contribute to candidates, a provision that opponents say will backfire.
Patrick Collins, chairman of the Illinois Reform Commission, said the bill has too many loopholes and should be tightened.
The measure was in line for a Senate floor vote Thursday night on a day that saw other milestone action. The Senate Executive Committee also OK'd legislation to force Quinn to review the performance of all state appointees by disgraced former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.
A House committee endorsed giving voters the power to recall unpopular governors the Senate.
The campaign finance bill won on an 8-5 vote, opposed by Republicans who say it could create new funding problems and is being rushed through by majority Democrats.
Democrats congratulated themselves on taking major steps toward reform in a state that has become an international laughingstock since Blagojevich, a Democrat, was arrested in December on federal corruption charges involving campaign fundraising.
Blagojevich had run as a reformer when he replaced GOP governor Ryan, who's serving a 6 1/2-year federal prison sentence for similar corruption involving political cash.
But Collins, the former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Ryan, complained there were too many holes in the current plan.
"What is the rush? Let's get it right," Collins said. "This bill can be better."
Collins, arguing points that included those echoed by another former federal prosecutor, Anton Valukas, said the limits were too high; that valuable in-kind contributions - offering campaign workers or a hall for a party - aren't included in the limits; and that there are no provisions to identify "bundlers," or people who collect contributions from others and have influence with the officeholder.
He and other opponents complained the legislation allows for a "proliferation" of political committees that, combined, could still generate large campaign accounts for certain candidates.
One problem with caps on contributions, critics argue, is that it limits the amount of money candidates can raise, making them more dependent on legislative leaders, who can consolidate power. And the bill doesn't address how much money someone can give his own campaign, giving candidates who are independently wealthy an advantage.
Earlier in the day, a House committee unanimously approved legislation that would let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to remove an unpopular governor. If it becomes law, voters would decide in next year's election whether to set up the recall system.
The system would have such tough requirements that recalling a governor would be "a Herculean task," said Quinn, who supports the proposal.
Recall advocates would have to get 30 Illinois legislators, including people from both parties and both chambers, to sign an affidavit supporting recall. Then they would have 150 days to collect signatures equal to 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the previous election for governor - about 520,000 signatures, based on 2006 - from at least 25 counties.
Only if all that happened would the public vote on whether to remove the governor and hold a special election to select a replacement.
Critics say the requirements are so onerous that recall would never be used. They also dislike the decision to limit recall to the governor and not include other statewide officials and legislators.
The Senate also will vote on House Speaker Michael Madigan's bill to force Quinn to fire about 750 state employees and commission members who were named from 1999 to this year - the Ryan and Blagojevich years. Quinn could retain anyone he wants, but if he doesn't act to reappoint them, they would be fired in 90 days.
One issue the Collins commission addressed - redrawing legislative and congressional districts - won't be taken up this spring.
Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said Thursday his Senate Redistricting Committee will conduct four hearings this summer and fall to take testimony on the best way to draw new lines after the 2010 Census.
The bills are HB7, HRJCA31 and SB1333.
On the Net: http://www.ilga.gov
Associated Press Writer Christopher Wills contributed to this report.