Episode III: Revenge of the Blago
It's been a tough couple of weeks for Governor Rod Blagojevich. There was the Hospital Board thing, where some of his donors were indicted, the dust-up with the Auditor General saying his administration couldn't document all the cost savings they claimed, and then the continuing investigation of fundraiser and Panda Express magnate, Tony Rezko. And yet, this afternoon he came roaring back with his long-promised campaign finance and ethics reform proposal, which according to a press release, "applies McCain-Feingold law to state elected offices".
Without a doubt, the proposed changes are dramatic. Illinois, one of five states without any state campaign finance limits of any kind, would suddenly force its politicians to grapple with significant finance reductions. In particular the law calls for a "a total ban on all contributions from corporations and unions, and limits contributions from individuals to $2,000 per candidate per election and from political committees and state parties to $5,000 per candidate per election." The law would also limit contributions to PACs and limit individuals to contributing up to $40,000 per election cycle.
Of course, this is still a lot of money we're talking about. But the current system in Illinois allows certain individuals and organizations to make outsized contributions on a regular basis, and have a huge affect on election outcomes.
The ethics component of the proposal reform is strong too. It would put stronger lobbying limits on former legislators and government officials, restrict law and lobbying firms from keepinig legislators on retainer (a common practice in Illinois) and put into place a number of nepotism restrictions on government boards.
Governor Blagojevich has also enlisted the support of eminence grise, former Congressman and former Federal Appellate Judge, Abner Mikva to give the effort some credibility. Also, it should be noticed that the bill's sponsor in the State Senate is Carol Ronen, a hard-charging, North Side lakefront Democrat, who will undoubtably push as hard for the bill's passage.
But Illinois' powers that be are very comfortable with the existing ethics and campaign finance rules, and it might be easy to dismiss Governor Blagojevich's proposal as a cynical response to his own scandal problems. Unless either Senate President Emil Jones or House Speaker Michael Madigan comes out in favor of the legislation -- or both -- the reform has no hope this year, and it will be remembered as just a sop.