06/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Senate Democrats Talk Ethics Record to New Media, Push Back on Old Media Complaints

Illinois Senate Democrats are pushing back--gently--but pushing back nonetheless against some Illinois newspaper editorial board claims that the legislature is an obstacle to Illinois political reform.

As part of that push back, and under the shadow of the Collins Commission public relations wave machine, several Democratic senators hosted an exclusive, blogger-only discussion on May 14 to update the new media on reform progress and, more importantly, to provide historical context and practical challenges to legislating reform.

Though light on details, Senators Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) and Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) gave bloggers a useful political science lesson on Illinois political reform--a lesson that stressed state political reform initiatives began long before Patrick Collins and crew rolled into Springfield.

With the backdrop of editorial boards blaring their reform horns and exhorting the legislature to act, Harmon dryly noted that the legislature has already acted. Harmon pointed to the comprehensive state pension reform that "did not get the appropriate attention in the mainstream media."

A state pension board provided a nest of financial corruption under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich via Stuart Levine and others. And Senate Democrats helped create the fix.

It was Schoenberg's legislation, SB 364, that cleaned house. The law kicked out the multiple existing pension board members, bans non-investment professionals--a.k.a. lobbyists--from greasing the wheels between investment houses and state pension boards, and tightens other ethics screws.

This is a big deal. And Quinn signed it into law on April 3--59 days after the bill was introduced and more than a month before Patrick Collins even released his report.

That's warp speed in legislative years. Schoenberg noted that he had toiled for 15 years until he successfully secured procurement reform at the Illinois Toll Highway Authority. But he got it done.

Raoul also provided a useful history lesson on another reform topic: public financing of elections. Raoul noted that the Collins report includes a recommendation to provide public financing for Illinois Supreme Court elections.

Great idea. And Raoul introduced legislation two years ago. He reintroduced the same bill, SB 2144, earlier this year, months before the Collins report. Raoul also noted his predecessor, Barack Obama, had sponsored the same legislation, SB 1415, in 2005.
Other Senate sponsors included Schoenberg and John Cullerton, among others,.

What did Chicago newspapers editorialize at the time at the time on the Obama bill? Nothing. Couldn't be bothered.

And so on.

Finally, Harmon said--and Cullerton confirmed earlier in the day--that Senate Democrats will back campaign contributions caps, but they are unlikely to copy the federal limits of $2,400 per candidate as recommended by Collins.

Harmon and the other senators--who observe that the federal limits hardly seem to have limited special interest influence in D.C.--want to prevent morphing state lawmakers into fund-raising machines that crowd out constituent demands and lawmaking from their schedules, a reality that Collins overlooks.

Finally, Harmon reminded the bloggers - for all the editorial commentary criticizing the legislature on ethics - there has been no lawmaker subject FBI to inquiry or subpoena or taint from the Blagojevich scandals.

What Harmon left unsaid was that a certain Chicago newspaper critical of the legislature can make no similar claim.