Illinois Public Media News
Members of Governor Pat Quinn's s commission on reform found support for change --- but not agreement on all the details --- at a town hall meeting that drew about 45 people to the law school at the University of Illinois Urbana campus on Monday.
The 15-member Reform Commission last week called for capping campaign contributions at 5 to 50-thousand dollars for political organizations, corporations and unions ... and 24-hundred dollars for individuals. Donations from lobbyists and trusts would be banned outright.
At the town hall meeting, U of I law student Mike Wilson had doubts. He thinks campaign contribution limits would favor candidates who already have money. "Don't contribution limits encourage the rich to run for and dominate elections", he asked, "especially elections for state legislatures, where individuals have a limited number of contributors, due to a small amount of people in a given district?" He likened the result to a "millionaire's club".
Reform Commission Chairman --- and former federal prosecutor --- Patrick Collins said Wilson made a good point. He suggested that the ultimate solution may lie with another commission proposal --- public financing of campaigns.. "The only way to counter balance the millionaire's club," said Collins, "is to give folks a public stipend, where they're owned by the people in five-dollar chunks, rather than owned by the 25-thousand-dollar-a-year givers."
In its preliminary proposals last week, the Reform Commission suggested trying campaign financing on a trial basis for judicial candidates only.
In addition to Collins, members of the Reform Commission at the town hall meeting included City of Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman and the Reverend Scott Willis. The Baptist minister who moved from Illinois to Tennessee in 2004 feels the impact of Illinois' corruption scandals in a searingly personal way. In 1994, the gas tank on his van exploded when it was struck by a mudflap bracket that fell off a truck on I-94 in northern Illinois. The expolosion killed six of Willis' children. A federal investigation into corruption in the office of then-Secretary of State George Ryan found that the driver of the truck paid a bribe to obtain his license.
When asked about the political factors underlying his personal tragedy, the Reverend Willis paused for several seconds. Finally, he said it came down to money, and the willingness of some in state government to hand out favors --- such as an undeserved truck driver's license --- for campaign contributions. Illinois state employees now take annual ethics training, but not until they've been on the job six months. Willis says by then it's often too late. "By that time, the ethics test doesn't really mean anything", he says, "because they've already learned the ropes of how things have been going on before. And money's a big part of that --- fund raising within the different departments and so on. So if anything, it's the love of money --- I'm a preacher --- it's the love of money, and the need of money to be able to get power."
The first round of recommendations from the Illinois Reform Commission calls for training state workers on ethics in their first month of employment, instead of the sixth.
Chairman Collins says their recommendations will need public support to win approval from lawmakers. Legislative leaders have set up their own joint committee to study reform, and Collins says his commission has been invited to address the legislative panel.
The 75-page indictment handed down Thursday against former Governor Rod Blagojevich and five co-defendants made fascinating reading for a University of Illinois law professor. Andrew Leipold is an expert on criminal law and the federal judicial process. He told AM 580's Jim Meadows that the indictment alleges a conspiracy to defraud people and extort money --- dating back to the very start of the Blagojevich administration.
The Illinois House voted today to overhaul management of state pension boards after the scandals of the Blagojevich administration. The measure was sent to the Senate on a 116-1 vote.
The bill calls for dumping the directors of four pension funds. And it calls for stricter ethics laws for all pension boards in the state. Investment advisers would be chosen through competitive bidding.
The purge applies to the Teachers' Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, the State Employees Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment.
The teachers pension board was involved in one of the scandals under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A Blagojevich friend conspired with one of his board appointees to demand kickbacks from companies wanting to do business with the pension fund.
People in Champaign-Urbana get their chance over the next week to offer opinions about downtown Champaign's cultural offerings and how they can improve.
The cultural group known as 40 North 88 West is wants to form a cultural arts district. Its director of operations, Steven Bentz, says downtown Champaign already has lots of cultural offerings - the goal is to make downtown a destination for families, day or night. He says the public has a big say in how that arts district would look.
"Is it arts facilities? Is it more classes? Is it happenings on the street? Are people wanting to see a greater involvement from multiple groups from around Champaign County -- educational groups, cultural groups, churches? What kinds of buy-in would people like to see happen through a cultural arts district in downtown Champaign?" asked Bentz. "We're encouraging people to really dream big."
After the public comment sessions, 40 North would hire a consultant to help come up with a definitive plan for an arts district.
The public sessions began Thursday night -- others will be held next Wednesday night at at 7:00 at City Hall and Thursday at noon at the Springer Cultural Center.
A sweeping federal indictment charges former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich with scheming to auction off President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate set, pressuring a congressman for campaign money and lying to FBI agents.
The 19-count indictment against Blagojevich and others also alleges billions of dollars in state pension bonds were refinanced in exchange for the promise of a massive kickback, among other crimes.
Others indicted included the former governor's brother Robert Blagojevich, Springfield millionaire William Cellini and the governor's onetime chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly.
Blagojevich's former chief of staff John Harris also faces a charge in the indictment. Prosecutors say he's cooperating.
US Senator Dick Durbin's reaction to Blagojevich's indictment was short - he says he hopes the governor doesn't see the indictment as a green light for another publicity tour. He says Blagojevich deserves his day in court but the people of Illinois deserve a break. 15th District Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana says those under indictment brought shame to the state and nation, and their prosecution is overdue.
Last-minute ballot lotteries will alter the order of candidates on ballots in Urbana and Champaign.
County clerk Mark Shelden says Republican candidates will appear first on the municipal election ballots in Urbana, followed by Democrats and Green party candidates. A lottery for Champaign ballot positions went to Democrats followed by Republicans. The lotteries follow protests from two candidates for Urbana mayor that the city clerk didn't hold a ballot lottery as required by state law. A City of Champaign township supervisor candidate later found that the clerk there didn't hold a lottery either. Shelden suspended absentee and early voting while new ballots are printed - he says absentee and early voting were expected to resume today
Federal prosecutors have worked for weeks to produce an indictment accusing ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich of committing an extraordinary "white-collar crime spree'' in the heart of Illinois government. Their handiwork could be seen as early as today.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has until Tuesday to get an indictment that would replace a complaint charging the former governor.
Blagojevich is accused of plotting to trade or sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and a host of other crimes.
Today is believed to be the last day the grand jury meets before the deadline, although the government never announces the time and place of grand jury meetings.
Fitzgerald could ask Chief Judge James F. Holderman of U.S. District Court for another deadline extension.
Voters in Champaign County will have the future of education funding in their hands when they hit the polls next Tuesday. At issue is a referendum to raise the county sales tax by a penny per dollar. The money would fund school building projects, pare down debt and potentially lower property taxes. As AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, after one failed attempt, the referendum's supporters are taking nothing for granted.
The Champaign City Council is backing just the first year of what had been a five-year-plan for increasing liquor license fees in the city.
City staff had proposed the multi-year plan to phase in increases on a yearly basis, instead of imposing them all at once. But council members say they want to see a cost-of-service study before approving the entire plan, to see how much it actually costs the city to regulate liquor establishments. That information is especially important, as Champaign looks for new revenue sources due to recession-related drops in tax revenue.
Mayor and city liquor commissioner Jerry Schweighart says Champaign's liquor license fees could stand to be raised anyway, because they're some of the lowest in the region. For instance, he says a bar currently pays $1900 for a Class A liquor license in Champaign, compared to $4000 in Urbana.
The first year increase endorsed Tuesday night will raise fees for all liquor licenses in Champaign by 200 dollars on June 1st --- that would raise the fee for a Class A, or bar license, to 21-hundred dollars. Fines for violations will also go up, and the city will create a new 25-dollar keg fee.
A mother was accidentally shot by her two-year-old child. That's the preliminary report from Champaign Police about an incident that occurred Tuesday evening in the 400 block of East Beardsley Avenue.
Police say it appears the toddler accidentally discharged a firearm and shot the mother, but that the injuries were NOT life threatening. The mother was taken to an area hospital.
The two-year-old was one of three children in the home at the time. The others are aged ten and eleven. None of them were injured.
Champaign Police are continuing their investigation.
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