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Friday, September 29

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State Politics Fri May 29 2009

What's Not to Like About the "Phony Reform" Bill

It appears that at least for today the Illinois House has not acted on HB0007, the shell bill being used to carry the key campaign finance reform provisions of the ethics package. Because hardly anyone in Chicago has actually seen what is being debated and reported on, I have included here in several places the link to the actual bill.

I traded e-mails with my state rep, Julie Hamos, today, trying to keep up on what's going down, and advised that I'd probably vote against the bill if I was there, if it was a pure up-or-down. Often, any progress is better than none, but if Cindy Canary says a bill is "phony reform," I'd be pretty reluctant to give it my stamp of approval, because Ms. Canary lives and breathes the real thing, rip-snortin', no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is passion for The Change We Need around here. And sometimes a half-measure is not half a loaf, it acts as a block to real reform, sometimes while making matters even worse.

Canary's actual quote was:

The disappointing Senate action should not be rubberstamped by the House. This phony reform should be blocked, and reform-minded legislators should insist on filling the loopholes created by the Senate.

Here's what Patrick Collins, chair of the Illinois Reform Commission, had to say, rather succinctly, this morning to the Illinois Senate, after they asked him yesterday for "bullet point" objections:

From: Collins, Patrick M.
Sent: Friday, May 29, 2009 11:03 AM
Subject: HB7 Follow Up

President Cullerton, Sen. Radogno and Sen. Harmon:

Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you on behalf of the Illinois Reform Commision. At yesterday's Executive Committee hearing, I was asked if I would put the nine principal objections the Illinois Reform Commission had regarding HB7 into "bullet point" format and to circulate to the members from each party. Here they are:

  1. Unlike SB350 (the IRC-created bill sponsored by Sen. Radogno), any political committee--including PACs formed by a multitude of corporations and unions--could transfer $90,000 to candidates. Thus, most sophisticated contributors actually can give 100,000 (90,000 from PAC + 10,000 directly) to their favored candidates on an annual basis.

  2. Unlike SB350, in-kind contributions from multi-party candidate committees are not subject to contribution limits. Historical campaign records show that a large percentage of the transfers to targeted races are done in the form of in-kind contributions from multi-party candidate committees.

  3. Unlike SB 350, the effective date is January 1, 2011, after the 2010 election cycle. Thus, the next election cycle will, for the most part, be governed by the old "wild west" rules.

  4. Unlike SB 350, the limits are set at 5,000/10,000 on an annual basis (compared to 2400/5000 on an election-cycle basis).

  5. Unlike SB 350, contribution limits are calendar year based (not election cycle based). For statewide and other 4-year cycle candidates, this will lead to a substantial increase in the total amount that can be contributed to a particular candidate.

  6. Unlike SB 350, "constituent services committees" can be established to "defray the costs related to constituent services and upkeep of that official's office." This is yet another opportunity to raise money and is potentially subject to misuse and abuse.

  7. Unlike SB 350, "real time" reporting is limited to certain limited periods that would not capture critical periods, including the most recently publicized fundraising activity.

  8. Unlike SB 350, there are no "bundling" provisions, which provisions are critical upon the adoption of a limits regime because there will be increased influence wielded by those who can collect checks on behalf of a campaign.

  9. The enforcement portions of the bill do not meaningfully increase the State Board of Elections police function.

Relatedly, I would also note that SB 352 (created by the IRC) contains an actual judicial public finance program to become effective in 2010. Amendment #2 to HB7, which passed yesterday, contains only a commitment to a public finance task force, with a report due in 2012.
Of course, as we indicated yesterday, we are willing to participate in future discussions to improve HB7.
Thank you again.
Patrick Collins

I'm not in Springfield. So I was up at dawn with my coffee reading the Senate amendments and trying to mentally cut and paste. Just off the bat, when I finally got a chance to take a look, in addition to all the funk with multiple committee categories (including "multi-candidate committees," i.e., private slates, which completely undercuts any limits on party-slating funding), the constituent services slush fund really didn't smell right.

Also, while too tepid in many places, in others the bill is also overbroad. Potentially it makes all newspapers, TV and radio stations who endorse, bloggers or blogsite owners, or sites like Facebook where people overtly support candidates, unwitting campaign contributors. And while the bill adopts something I urged many years ago, namely an end to statewide slating by the Democratic Party, it does so by law rather than by party rule. Altho I believe that a party should stay out of primaries, and listen to the voters rather than dictate to them, I don't know how the state can constitutionally tell a political party it can't "endorse." I mean, that can't possibly stand up. It seems like an intentional fail, virtually inviting a court to invalidate it.

A note on transparecny (or lack thereof). All this stuff came down in a real hurry. It's almost impossible, if you're not in Springfield itself, or linked to someone on the capitol floor with a smart-phone, for a concerned citizen to follow the progress of the various pieces of reform legislation in real time. Rich Miller blogs it but unless you subscribe to his feed at $350/yr., you have to wait a day. The Illinois General Assembly website stays about a day behind in general as well, although they have been hustling; but this bill had 7 amendments in the Senate and it's hard to put them all together. I didn't even get the Collins quote off the Illinois Reform Commission website, but from a GOP blog! To the credit of the Speaker's office, I have received no less than 4 different snail mail updates on pieces of ethics reform, because I helped circulate some petitions delivered to him, and I also followed up with some e-mail. However, these all end up considerably after-the-fact.

Since the GA has been told to expect to stay through Sunday, that this did not pass today seems like a good thing, giving cooler heads time to sort it through. Maybe even prevail. In the meantime, constituents may still express their feelings to their representatives. And should.

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